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Escape! Because Accidents Happen—Car Crash

Classroom Activity

To design and implement a study of local seat belt use and compare the results to national statistics.

Materials for each team
  • copy of student handouts
    Buckled Up ( HTML)
    National Statistics ( HTML)
    Data Collection Strategies ( HTML)
  1. Begin with a discussion about seat belt use. Ask students if they use seat belts, how often and why or why not. What purposes do seat belts serve? What are the benefits and risks of using seat belts?

  2. In Part I, students will analyze national statistics on seat belt use. Introduce the idea that most states have laws requiring the use of seat belts, and explain the difference between primary and secondary enforcement laws (see Seat Belt Laws below). Before students begin, ask what percentage of people in their area they think use seat belts. Organize students into groups and distribute the "Buckled Up?" activity sheets. Have students use the information found in the "National Statistics" student handout to create a bar graph that represents the data. Then have them analyze their graphs and discuss any patterns they notice.

  3. In Part II, students will collect and analyze data for seat belt use in their community. As a class, design a data collection strategy and a chart in which to record observations. (You might want to present an actual strategy from the "Data Collection Strategies") Assign students to groups again. Have each group identify a SAFE* location from which to observe seat belt use.

  4. After they've collected data, have groups pool their data and calculate and graph the percentage of drivers and passengers who use seat belts. Compare their local data to national data. To conclude, have students consider any questions that have arisen from their research and how they might answer them.

* IMPORTANT: Caution students to choose a safe location from which to observe passing motorists and to position themselves at a safe distance from the street. Tell them to avoid busy intersections, multilane roads and highways.

Seat Belt Laws
Under a primary law, police officers may stop a vehicle and write citations whenever they observe violations of the seat belt law. Under a secondary law, police officers are permitted to write a citation only after the vehicle is stopped for another traffic violation, such as speeding or running a red light.

(Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 1997—Occupant Protection)
Activity Answer

In Part I, students will create bar graphs to analyze seat belt usage rates by state and law type. As students create their graphs, encourage them to label each axis and to give their graphs a title. Suggest they use as large a scale as possible for the vertical axis to highlight differences in seat belt usage rates between the states.

As of December 1997, 49 states and the District of Columbia had seat belt use laws in effect (New Hampshire has no law). Thirteen enforce primary laws, while 36 enforce secondary laws. In 1997, the average observed belt usage rate reported by states with secondary enforcement was 62 percent, compared to 79 percent in states with primary enforcement.* Students should notice that states with primary enforcement tend to have higher usage rates, although not necessarily. Factors other than type of law can affect a state's seat belt usage rate. These might include how strictly the law is enforced, awareness campaigns for seat belt use, driving conditions (for example, bad weather or dangerous roads might encourage use) and traffic volume (for example, people might be more inclined to use them on congested city roads than on less-traveled, rural roads.)

In Part II, students choose a location and design a plan for observing and recording seat belt use. Encourage students to include in their data a description of the location, the date and the time of observation. Students might also want to expand their data collection to include car type and the gender and approximate age of the passengers. You might want to share with students strategies used in actual state surveys found in the "Data Collection Strategies" student handout. Students' results might differ from statewide surveys for a number of reasons, including:

  • local data is more easily skewed because the local sample size is smaller than the statewide sample size (for example, five unbelted drivers in a sample of 100 represents 5 percent, while five unbelted drivers in a sample of 100,000 represents .00005 percent).

  • local observation may not be representative of the entire state, while statewide observation is more likely to include a cross section of neighborhoods, traffic conditions, differences in law enforcement and so on.

  • the time of day and year the survey takes place could affect results (for example, winter conditions might encourage more seat belt use than summer conditions).

(*Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 1997—Occupant Protection)
Graph of state seat belt usage rates by law type

(Source: National Highway Safety Traffic Administration)
Links and Books


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Call or write to your local office for data on current seat belt usage rates and other topics. Regional contact information is listed in the telephone book or on the Web at:

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Escape: Car Crash
Delves deeper into the program's content and themes with features such as articles, timelines, interviews, activities, resource links and program transcripts.

Buckle Up: Presidential Initiative for Increasing Seat Belt Use Nationwide
Contains statistics on national seat belt usage rates and outlines the national strategy for increasing seat belt use.


The "Buckled Up?" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards and Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics:

Grades 5-8

Science Standard A:
Science as Inquiry

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.

  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation.

  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze and interpret data.

  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions and models using evidence.

  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.

  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.

  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.

  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.

Statistics and Probability

Mathematics Standard 10:

Grades 9-12

Science Standard A:
Science as Inquiry

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry:
  • Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations.

  • Design and conduct scientific investigations.

  • Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.

  • Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.

  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models.

  • Communicate and defend a scientific argument.

Statistics and Probability

Mathematics Standard 10:

Teacher's Guide
Escape! Because Accidents Happen—Car Crash

Video is not required for this activity