2022 SafeTREC Traffic Safety Fact Sheet: Occupant Protection

Restraint devices such as seat belts are a key element of motor vehicle occupant protection systems. Each year, NHTSA conducts the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) that measures, among many variables, the daytime use of seat belts by occupants age eight and older. The 2020 NOPUS reported that seat belt use was 90.3 percent among front-seat passengers, a slight decrease from the 90.7 percent observed in 2018. This change, along with the changes in subsets such as time of day or day of the week, was not statistically significant. 

The United States Department of Transportation uses the Safe System Approach to work towards zero roadway fatalities and serious injuries. The Safe System Approach recognizes human mistakes and vulnerabilities, and designs a system with many redundancies in place to protect everyone. The Federal Highway Administration names safe road users, safe vehicles, safe speeds, safe roads, and post-crash care as key elements of a Safe System. Proper use of seat belts and other occupant safety devices is an important component of the “Safer Vehicles” and “Safer People” layers of protection. 

Analyses presented in the occupant protection program area include fatal and serious injuries where a driver or passenger in a passenger vehicle was unrestrained. Occupant protection crashes in this report are defined as crashes where one or more occupants in a passenger vehicle was unrestrained. Under this program area, there is additional analyses that address aging road users and child passenger safety. 

Garrett Fortin
Jill F. Cooper
Publication date: 
September 12, 2022
Publication type: 
Fact Sheet