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Associations between Adolescent Seatbelt Non-Use, Normative Perceptions and Screen Media Exposure: Results from a National U.S. Survey


Failure to use seatbelts in motor vehicles is a major source of youth injuries, and previous research has noted the widespread non-use of seatbelts in popular media.

OBJECTIVES: To explore whether increased exposure to entertainment screen media was associated with inflated normative perceptions regarding seatbelt non-use, and to determine any associations between normative perceptions and seatbelt non-use.

METHODS: A nationally representative telephone survey of school-aged American adolescents (14-17 years, n=915) measuring: screen media exposure; normative perceptions with reference to friends’ disapproval of non-use, and prevalence of non-use among friends, school peers and peers; and self-reported seatbelt non-use.

RESULTS: Using structural equation modelling, analyses indicate that, after demographic and individual characteristics relevant to screen media exposure and seatbelt non-use had been controlled for, frequent exposure to entertainment media was associated with positive normative perceptions about seatbelt non-use for boys, but not for girls. Normative perceptions related to friends’ and school peers’ seatbelt use were associated with seatbelt non-use for both boys and girls.

CONCLUSIONS: Attempts to increase adolescent seatbelt use could include public communication campaigns to alter normative perceptions. Broadcasting these campaigns in conjunction with the media that under-represent seatbelt use may be a successful strategy for reducing the influence of such media on male adolescents.