What makes us use seat belts is not a complicated thing to understand. It's self-preservation; simple logic and an understanding of physics.
When we live long enough, we see things happen on roads that we don't want to happen to us. And if that's not enough of an incentive, some are persuaded to buckle up in order to avoid tickets and higher insurance.
Why then do you suppose that seat belt usage across the U.S. can vary so greatly from the state where usage is highest, Hawaii, (97.6%) to the state where it is lowest, New Hampshire,(72.2%)?
Let's take a look at the states where drivers seem to be very conscientious about their own safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's report on seat belt usage by U.S. drivers, the top five states for seat belt usage are Hawaii (97.6%); Washington (97.6%); Oregon(97.0%); California (96.2%) and Michigan (95.2%).
Conversely, the states with the worst seat belt usage rates are New Hampshire (72.2%); Massachusetts (73.7%); South Dakota (74.5%); North Dakota (74.8%) and Louisiana (75.9%). Of course, New Hampshire residents do not get any encouragement from their government as the state has no laws requiring motorists to use seat belts. The state motto, after all, is "Live Free or Die" and they take that pretty seriously.
If you were to take a guess that maybe we'd find low usage rates in states where gambling is legal, you'd discover that there's no correlation. Driving without a seat belt is a pretty big gamble but in Nevada and New Jersey they know better than to take that kind of a chance... Seat belt usage rates are both over 93 percent.
In some states one can understand the numbers... some places are so wide open like the Dakotas, that maybe people don't believe they're exposed to as much risk as they might be if they were on New York's Long Island Expressway.
For the most part, seat belt usage rates are on the increase. Even in New Hampshire, where apparently it's more about asserting one's freedom from government, seat belt usage there, as bad as it is... is on the increase. Back in 2003, New Hampshire seat belt usage was reported at 49.6%.
What's especially puzzling is where we see seat belt usage going down. In 2004 Arizona seat belt usage hit 95.3% In NHTSA's most recent report it had declined to 81.8%.