With the "Click It or Ticket" campaign winding down, this seems like a question worth considering.
After noodling with the numbers a bit more, some interesting things emerge. While overall, states with tougher seatbelt laws seem to have somewhat lower highway fatality rates, this is not the case with the safest states.
Here are the five safest states, and their fatality rates (motor vehicle deaths per 100M vehicle miles traveled):
1. Vermont: 0.81
2. Massachusetts: 0.86
3. New Hampshire: 1.01
4. Connecticut: 1.03
4. (tie) Rhode Island: 1.03
Of the five safest states, only one (CT) has a primary seat belt law, and NH is the third safest state even though it is also the only state without any seat belt law. (MA and NH also have the lowest seat belt use rates in the nation.)
Of the ten safest states, five have primary enforcement laws, and five do not.
And even though Puerto Rico has a primary enforcement law and the second highest rate of seat belt use (91 percent), it has the highest fatality rate.
Clearly, there's a lot more to safer streets than tougher seat belt laws.