I. Introduction

There are 562 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. The 562 tribal nations collectively make up the “Indian State” eligible for Sec. 402 funding under Chapter 4 of the Title 23, United States Code.1 The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) administers the Indian Highway Safety Program (IHSP) and serves as the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative and focal point of coordination for the Indian State. The Indian State is appropriated highway safety grant funds the same manner as all other States and eligible U.S. Territories and is subject to setting performance-based programming goals for reducing motor vehicle crashes, fatalities, and injuries and reporting progress in achieving those goals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the motor vehicle death rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives is nearly twice as high as other races (27.52 per 100,000 population versus 15.30 per hundred thousand for all races in 2002). Further, motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death for Native Americans ages 1-34 and the third leading cause of death overall for American Indians/Alaska Natives. In December 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that motor vehicle traffic crashes were the leading cause of death among all Americans during 2001 for ages 4-34, and the second leading cause of death for ages 1-3.

In April 2004, NHTSA published a Technical Report, Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes on Indian Reservations 1975-2002 (Report No. DOT HS 809 727). This report showed that over 76 percent of the fatally injured occupants on tribal reservations were unrestrained at the time of the crash. The report states that in 2002 only 16 percent of the fatally injured occupants of passenger cars and light trucks on tribal reservations were restrained, compared with 38 percent in the Nation. In that same year, the national observed safety belt use rate determined by the National Occupant Protection Usage Survey was 75 percent. Individual State use rates ranged from 51 percent to 92.6 percent (where known). In 2004, the national use rate increased to 80 percent, and the range of individual State rates increased to 63.2 percent to 95.3 percent (where known).

This report defines the state of safety belt use for Native American Tribal Reservations subject to tribal law and tribal traffic enforcement for 2004, a tool for use in problem identification and comparison with national and State safety belt use rates.

Effective for 1998, NHTSA established revised guidelines for State Safety Belt Use Survey designs to measure progress in increasing safety belt use rates in a comparative and consistent manner throughout the country. Prior to the survey reported here, there had not been a “statewide” belt use survey for the Indian State. NHTSA fully funded the costs for the development of the survey design, conduct of the survey, and analysis of the survey results. The purpose was to provide a survey design comparable to other State surveys and determine a baseline safety belt use rate for Native American Tribal Reservations subject to tribal law and tribal traffic enforcement.

The first step in designing the sampling plan was to determine what tribal reservations qualified for safety belt use measurement. Although the Indian reservations are all sovereign entities, the governments of a number of the tribal reservations, and for a number of roadways within other tribal reservations, did not set or enforce safety belt use requirements. In order to focus on Indian-controlled belt use, we limited our safety belt use observations to areas subject to tribal law and tribal law enforcement. It is in those areas that tribal policy and procedures are directly responsible for current levels of safety belt use, and it is in these areas that tribal efforts can be most effective in establishing and improving safety belt usage levels.

These criteria excluded a number of tribal governments, as noted below. They also excluded, in otherwise qualified reservations, roadways that are governed by State safety belt laws and patrolled by non-Indian authorities such as the States’ highway patrol (e.g., many State or Federal highways).

For the purpose of this report, Native American Tribal Reservations subject to tribal law and traffic enforcement are referred to as "Indian Country". This definition of Indian Country is somewhat restrictive and applies only to this safety belt use effort.

Tribal reservations included in Indian Country are all in the 48 contiguous States. There are no tribal reservations located in Hawaii, and Alaska is a “Public Law 280” State. Nearly all tribal reservations in Public Law 280 (PL 280) States (Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin) were excluded since, under PL 280, they are subject to State traffic authorities and would already be included in statewide belt use estimates. Four tribal reservations in these States are exceptions; they set and enforce laws covering use of their own roads and are included in Indian Country. In addition, five tribal reservations in non-PL 280 States were excluded because they are known by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be unable to implement or enforce unique safety belt laws (e.g., because the tribal reservation is an undifferentiated area within a city).

There remained in Indian Country approximately 180 federally recognized tribal reservations within the 48 contiguous States subject to tribal law and tribal traffic law enforcement. Total population on these tribal reservations is about 712,000 people, which represents 75 percent of the total 944,000 population for all American Indian Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Lands in the 2000 U.S. Census. Each of the Indian Country reservations has its own road system and may set up its own safety belt use requirements and determine its own level of “compliance emphasis” through PI&E and enforcement.

Individual tribal reservations vary greatly in terms of population. The largest is the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah (population 155,214). The next largest is the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma (44,437). These two tribal reservations contain 28 percent of the population of Indian Country. Eleven tribal reservations have fewer than 100 residents.

For the purposes of safety belt use observations, all qualified tribal reservations with total populations of 2,000 or more were eligible for selection into the observation sample. There are 61 such tribal reservations, and they are listed in Appendix C. They have a total population of about 660,000, or 93 percent of the total Indian Country population. Native Americans make up 60 percent of the population on the 61 reservations versus 61 percent on all Indian Country reservations. The remaining reservations in Indian Country are listed in Appendix D.

It was the judgment of the BIA that, socially and culturally, tribal reservations can be classified in six separate categories that corresponded to distinct geographic “Areas”: Northwest (Washington State, Oregon, and Idaho), Northern Plains (Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota), Southwest (California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico), Great Lakes (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio), South Central (Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana), and South and East (all remaining States). These Areas became a stratification variable in tribal reservation selection.

Figure 1. Native American Areas.
US map broken into regions - click for long description

1 The Indian Nations State/BIA may or may not have direct access to other highway safety program funds allocated under Title 23, USC. For example, the Indian Nation “State” did not have direct access/eligibility to Section 157 or other funding under Chapter 1, Federal Aid Highways Program, but did have access to Section 2003(b) funding.