Date of Award

Winter 2009

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration and Urban Studies

Committee Director

Berhanu Mengistu

Committee Member

John R. Lombard

Committee Member

Bryan Porter

Committee Member

Nancy A. Bagranoff

Committee Member

John C. Morris


Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of injuries and fatalities for persons 15-19 years of age in the United States. The higher fatality rate is caused in part from the lack of driving experience and the increased risk taking behaviors of adolescent drivers. Graduated driver licensing laws have been enacted in most states to address the risks associated with inexperience by adding restrictions on nighttime driving and limiting the number of teen passengers in the vehicle for novice drivers.

Inconsistent use or non-use of a safety belt when riding in a motor vehicle is a prevalent risk taking behavior among the adolescent population. Currently, laws that require safety belt use in motor vehicles in Virginia are not enforced at a primary level and are only required for the front seat passengers. This secondary enforcement requires an additional traffic infraction be identified before a safety belt violation can be addressed. This places parents in the role of primary enforcer of safety belt use for their teenage children at a time when teens are riding in motor vehicles more often with friends than with parents. In addition adolescence is a time where friends have been shown to be a stronger influence on risky behavior than parents are.

The current study will examine the level of safety belt use by high school students and compare that use to the reported level of safety belt use of their parents and their friends to determine which group is more influential on the behavior. Additional factors associated with safety belt use including crash experience, gender, level of licensure and age are included in the analysis. A series of correlations and regression models indicated that having parents and friends who always wear a safety belt increases the odds ratio of the high school student always using a safety belt. However, when age was used as a selection variable, the odds ratio of parent influence decreases as the age increases and the influence of friend's safety belt use continued to increase as the age of the student increased.

Implications from the research indicate a need for stronger safety belt use and novice driver licensing policies to increase levels of enforcement by police and better support parental efforts to curb risky driving behavior during adolescence.