The Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey is conducted biennially for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It is a national telephone survey composed of two questionnaires, each administered to approximately 4,000 randomly selected persons age 16 and older. The Version 1 Questionnaire emphasizes seat belt issues while Version 2 emphasizes child restraint issues. The questionnaires also contain smaller modules addressing such areas as air bags, motorcyclist and bicyclist helmet use, emergency medical services, and crash injury experience.

NHTSA conducted the first Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey in 1994. Subsequent versions of the survey have included modest revisions to reflect changes in information needs. Thus the 1998 survey contained numerous items from the 1994 and 1996 surveys, which allows the agency to monitor change over time in knowledge, attitudes, and (reported) behavior related to motor vehicle occupant safety. The 1998 survey also included new questions dealing with such areas as seating position of children, attitudes about risk and the utility of seat belts, warning labels for air bags, and child injury prevention.

The following report presents findings from the 1998 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey pertaining to seat belts. Specifically, it explores the following areas:

A fifth section examines trends between 1994 and 1998 on selected seat belt issues.


The 1998 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey was conducted by Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc. (SRBI), a national survey research organization. SRBI conducted a total of 8,215 telephone interviews among a national population sample. To reduce the burden on respondents, the survey employed two questionnaires. A total of 4,094 interviews were completed with Version 1 and 4,121 interviews were completed with Version 2. Although some questions appeared in both versions (e.g., demographics, crash injury experience, seat belt use), each questionnaire had its own set of distinct topics. Each sample was composed of approximately 4,000 persons age 16 and older, including oversamples of persons ages 16-39. The procedures used in the survey yielded national estimates of the target population within specified limits of expected sampling variability, from which valid generalizations can be made to the general public.

The survey was conducted from November 5, 1998 to January 12, 1999. This is approximately the same time period in which the 1994 and 1996 surveys were conducted. For a complete description of the methodology and sample disposition, including computation of weights, refer to the 1998 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey: Methodology Report. The report includes English and Spanish language versions of the questionnaires.

The percentages presented in this report are weighted to reflect accurately the national population age 16 and older. Unweighted sample sizes ("N"s) are included so that readers know the exact number of respondents answering a given question, allowing them to estimate sampling precision (see Appendix A for related technical information).

Percentages for some items may not add to 100 percent due to rounding, or because the question allowed for more than one response. In addition, the number of cases involved in subgroup analyses may not sum to the grand total who responded to the primary questionnaire item being analyzed. Reasons for this include some form of nonresponse on the grouping variable (e.g., "Don't Know" or Refused), or use of only selected subgroups in the analysis. Moreover, if one of the variables involved in the subgroup analysis appeared on both versions of the questionnaire but the other(s) appeared on only one questionnaire, then the subgroup analysis was restricted to data from only one version of the questionnaire.

The survey employed two questions to categorize cases for subgroup analyses involving race and ethnicity. The first asked respondents if they considered themselves to be Hispanic or Latino. Those who said "Yes" composed the Hispanic analytic subgroup in the study, those who said "No" composed a non-Hispanic comparison group. The second question was treated independently of the ethnicity question, i.e., it was asked of every respondent. The interviewers recited several different racial categories, and asked respondents which categories described them. Respondents could select more than one. For purposes of analysis, a respondent was assigned to a specific racial category if s/he selected only that category. The few respondents who selected multiple categories (fewer than 200 out of more than 8200 cases) were analyzed as a separate multi-racial group. Because race and ethnicity were considered independently, each racial group could include both Hispanics and non-Hispanics, and the Hispanic analytic subgroup included both blacks and whites.