Skip to main content

Risk compensation and the effectiveness of safety belt use laws: a case study of New Jersey


This paper investigates the effectiveness of New Jersey's mandatory belt use law (MUL) by testing specifically for: (1) a safety effect, and (2) a risk-compensation effect that could offset (in part) any safety impact. The main findings are that injury severity declined significantly in the 22 months following implementation of the MUL; but that accident frequency increased significantly. The increase in accidents may be explained only partially by increased driving mileage. These findings suggest that the real safety effect of the law may have been diluted by risk-compensating behavior.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Andreassand, D. C. (1972). ‘The Effects of Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing Legislation in Victoria,’ Canberra, National Road Safety Symposium.

  • Asch, Peter and David T. Levy (1989). An Evaluation of the New Jersey Safety Belt Use Law, Rutgers University: Bureau of Economic Research.

  • Blomquist, Glenn C. (1987). ‘Motorist Use of Safety Equipment,’ presented at the ‘Automobile Safety Legislation’ session of the American Economic Association/Allied Social Sciences Association meetings, Chicago.

  • Campbell, B. J. and Frances A. Campbell (1986). Seat Belt Law Experience in Four Foreign Countries Compared to the United States, Falls Church, VA: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

    Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, B. J., J. R. Stuart, and Frances A. Campbell (1987). 1985–1986 Experience with Belt Laws in the United States, University of North Carolina, Highway Safety Research Center.

  • Chorba, Terence L., Donald Reinfurt, and Barbara S. Hulka (1988). ‘Efficacy of Mandatory Seat-Belt Use Legislation,’ Journal of the American Medical Association 260: 3593–3597.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conybeare, John A. C. (1980). ‘Evaluation of Automobile Safety Regulations: The Case of Compulsory Seat Belt Legislation in Australia,’ Policy Sciences 12: 27–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foldavy, L. A. and J. C. Lane (1974). ‘The Effectiveness of Compulsory Wearing of Seat Belts in Casualty Reduction,’ Accident Analysis and Prevention 6: 59–81.

    Google Scholar 

  • Friedel, B. and E. A. Marburger (1986). ‘Belt Usage Rates in the Federal Republic of Germany and Their Medical Consequences,’ American Association for Automotive Medicine, 30th Proceedings, Montreal.

  • Graham, John D. (1984). ‘Automobile Crash Protection: Institutional Responses to Self-Hazardous Behavior,’ in Susan G. Hadden, ed., Risk Analysis, Institutions, and Public Policy, Port Washington, NY: Associated Faculty Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (1988). Status Report 23: 7.

    Google Scholar 

  • Irwin, Alan, (1987). ‘Technical Expertise and Risk Conflict: An Institutional Study of the British Compulsory Seat Belt Debate,’ Policy Sciences 20: 339–364.

    Google Scholar 

  • Latimer, E. A. and L. B. Lave (1987). ‘Initial Effects of the New York Auto Safety Belt Law,’ American Journal of Public Health 77: 183–186.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levy, D., D. Shea, and P. Asch (1989). ‘Traffic Safety Effects of Sobriety Checkpoints and Other Local DWI Programs in New Jersey,’ American Journal of Public Health 79: 291–293.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marburger, E. A. and L. Meyer (1986). ‘Effectiveness of Safety Belts and Explanation of the Use Rate in Germany from the Imposition of the Law (1974) to the Imposition of the Fine (1984),’ Zeitschrift fur Veerkehrssicherrheit 32: 82–91.

    Google Scholar 

  • Norin, H., G. Carlsson, and J. Korner (1984). Seat Belt Usage in Sweden and its Injury Reducing Effect, (Warrandale, PA: Society for Automotive Engineering, SAE Technical Paper Series 840194.

    Google Scholar 

  • Partyka, Susan C. and Kathleen B. Womble (1989). ‘Projected Lives Savings from Greater Belt Use,’ Research Notes, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Peltzman, Sam (1975). ‘The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation,’ Journal of Political Economy 83: 677–726.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tingvall, C. (1982). Is Adams Right? Some Aspects on a Theory Concerning Effects of Seat Belt Legislation, Uppsala Universitet Statistika Institutionen.

  • United States, Bureau of the Census (1983, 1988). County and City Data Book, Washington, D.C.

  • United States, Federal Highway Administration (annual). Highway Statistics, Washington, D.C.

  • Wagenaar, A. C., R. G. Maybee, and K. P. Sullivan (1987). ‘Michigan's Compulsory Restraint Use Policies: Effects on Injuries and Deaths,’ Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilde, Gerald J. S. (1982). ‘The Theory of Risk Homeostasis: Implications for Safety and Health,’ Risk Analysis 2: 209–225.

    Google Scholar 

  • Winston, Clifford and Associates (1987). Blind Intersection? Policy and the Automobile Industry, Washington, DC: Brookings.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

This paper is based on a study conducted for the New Jersey Office of Highway Traffic Safety by the Rutgers University Bureau of Economic Research. We are grateful to William Ascher and two referees for useful comments.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Asch, P., Levy, D.T., Shea, D. et al. Risk compensation and the effectiveness of safety belt use laws: a case study of New Jersey. Policy Sci 24, 181–197 (1991).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Economic Policy
  • Injury Severity
  • Safety Effect
  • Risk Compensation
  • Safety Belt