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Seatbelts: Why Do We Have to Wear Them?

Do Seatbelts Really Work?
Seatbelts: Why?

Seatbelts raise little controversy. Many people buckle-up without thinking much about it. Others wonder why we wear seatbelts, what actual purpose is served and why we don’t have the option to buckle up or not.

Such questions present fair and important issues. The answers lie in safety concerns. Extensive research and studies prove the effectiveness of seatbelts, offering the view that they are a necessity in vehicle travel.

Have seatbelts actually saved lives?

Unfortunately car accidents happen all the time. Most people have either been involved in one, or know someone who has. The severity of an accident depends on many factors including speed and the type of vehicles involved.  At the same time studies show that seatbelt use most often reduces the extent of injuries.  Fatalities are often prevented through the use of seatbelts.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seatbelts save over 15,000 lives annually. That number increases each year as seat belt use rises. Seatbelts keep you restrained and secure during impact, preventing extreme movement of your body which would increase the risk of injuries, or a fatality.

How do seatbelts work?

Seatbelts employ a locking mechanism triggered upon impact or by a strong force, similar to airbags. The locking feature anchors your body to the seat, preventing your body from having free and open movement within the vehicle as a powerful impact occurs. By design, seatbelts absorb the impact and spread out the force that your body endures during a collision. The manner in which the lap belt and chest belt are placed makes you more unlikely to suffer serious injuries to one part of the body.  The belts physically restrain the strongest parts of the body such as the hips and shoulder which can handle the most force, compared to legs, arms, neck, and etc.

What is the actual purpose of wearing a seatbelt in a car?

Advocates say seatbelts prevent your body from lunging forward, getting thrown about the vehicle, or being ejected from the vehicle. In a high impact car crash unrestrained human bodies can be thrown into windows, doors, seats, the dashboard or windshield.  This holds potential for serious injuries.  Such impact also causes bodies to be ejected from a vehicle, often resulting catastrophic injuries or death.

When you are fastened to your seat, the risk is diminished significantly. Results were so substantial that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) found that more than half of people killed in motor vehicle accidents each year were not wearing seatbelts. The CDCP also states that wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of sustaining a serious injury in a crash by 50%.  Seatbelt use reduces the chance of fatality in a car accident by 45%. The CDCP’s study also confirms that every 3 out of 4 people who are ejected from the vehicle during a crash die from injuries and 30% of people who are not buckled up during a collision become ejected from the vehicle.

Why do we have to wear seatbelts? Are they safer?

Many share the belief that an airbag alone is enough to save you, so a seatbelt in addition to the air bag isn’t necessary. Unfortunately this belief is inaccurate and air bags have enough force to kill you if there is not a buckled seatbelt on your body to absorb your momentum and force. When your vehicle crashes into an object or other vehicle, your body is violently flung forward due to the fact that the vehicle was moving forward at a high speed then stopped short and suddenly upon impact.

If your body is soaring with force into an airbag that is inflating at high speed into the direction of your body, that colliding momentum can lead to a hard impact that can seriously injure or kill you. Alternatively, the combination of an airbag and a seatbelt is the intended use, instead of replacing one or the other. With both safety devices in use, your body can avoid the severity of the airbag’s negative effects, causing it to be more helpful rather than harmful.

Of course you still face the risk of becoming injured by airbags even while buckled, just as a seatbelt can cause injuries, but the injuries are typically significantly less severe. Overall, they have both been proven to be extremely reliable, effective, and are leading safety measures in reducing injury risk.

Why is it illegal to not wear your seatbelt?

Seatbelts are intended to increase safety, save lives, and reduce the risk of sustaining injuries in an accident, so most states require all passengers to wear one while traveling within a vehicle. The majority of the United States’ population grasps the importance of seatbelts and chooses to wear them each time they enter a vehicle, but in many states, seat belt use is mandatory and you could earn yourself a ticket if you’re caught not wearing one.

Laws differ from state to state. New Hampshire only requires seatbelts for those under 18.  Massachusetts law mandates seatbelt use for everyone 13 and older.  Some other states require seat belts only for operators and front seat passengers. All 50 states require children to be buckled-up, and in the proper seats for their weight. Such laws intend to protect and ensure safety even to those who would be motivated to protect themselves without the fear of getting stopped by an officer.

Yet another legal question asks whether the use or non use of seatbelts in an accident is admissible in a later claim for injuries caused by a car accident.  Here’s the answer.

Why don’t people “buckle up” their seatbelts every time they ride in a car?

People cite many reasons for not wearing seatbelts. Some people believe they are great drivers and will never be in an accident. Others may feel afraid that they may become trapped in a vehicle after a car wreck. But the NHTSA found the top reasons people refuse to wear seatbelts:

  • Reliance on airbags
  • Belief that they would have the ability to brace their bodies in the event of an accident
  • “Only traveling short distance”
  • Believing seatbelts are uncomfortable
  • Forget to buckle
  • Failing to understand the importance of seatbelt use
  • Feeling “cool” among peers

What are the possible arguments that requiring drivers to wear seatbelts has negatively impacted safety?

Seatbelts offer safety and security.  But sometimes seatbelts actually cause injuries during an accident.  This happens because a body’s entire weight is pushed into it with extreme force. So, Lap belts hold the potential to cause injuries including whiplash, fractures, internal bleeding, dislocations, head injuries, and more.  Abrasions and lacerations make up the most common such injuries.  Shoulder belts can cause injuries to the sternum, neck, shoulder, and ribs. Lap belt injuries include hip, abdomen, and stomach injuries.

Experts say fastening the seatbelt correctly minimizes the risk of common injuries.  Also, accident statistics show that the advantages of seatbelt use outweigh the occasional injury actually caused by seatbelts.

Is wearing a seatbelt a guarantee that you won’t die in a crash?

Nothing guarantees any of us will actually survive a car accident. But again, accident experts report that seatbelts increase the chance of survival.  Most people do not die from injuries sustained from seatbelts, but rather from the severity of the accident, or due to a defective or malfunctioning seatbelt. Defective seatbelts are a serious matter and can cause you to sustain injuries in a crash that you otherwise wouldn’t have if your seatbelt was functioning properly upon impact. Seatbelt defects can include failure to latch, excessive slack of the seatbelt, failure to lock, missing straps such as shoulder or lap belt, and others.

Sometimes those who are fastened in their seatbelts experience submarining during a collision. Submarining happens when the body slides out from under the lap-belt.  This may result from a defect in the seatbelt or improper fastening.  Submarining increases the likelihood of severe injury or even death is a serious accident.  This is why the experts warn to make sure your seatbelt is tightened and working properly.  In some cases where seatbelt defects actually cause injury, manufacturers are held liable in a products liability claim.  Compensation can include money damages for injuries.

Should I wear a seatbelt while driving?

Motor vehicle accidents present the number one cause of death in the U.S. among people between the ages of 5 and 34. That number came out of a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP).

Those who study traffic accident report that seatbelts reliably and effectively reduce the severity and likelihood of injuries in a car accident. So, in a world where accidents happen, and are a leading cause of death, seatbelts present a tool that can be used to protect yourself and your passengers.

Ninety per cent of all drivers and passengers in the U.S. now use seatbelts. That number comes from the “National Occupant Protection Use Survey” also known as NOPUS.  The number represents an all-time high.  At the same time the U.S. Department of Transportation point out that the 10 per cent who do not use seat belts add up to approximately 27.5 million who take the risk of injury in a serious car accident.


Photo Credit:  Seat Belt by “Whatsername” on Flickr under Creative Commons License.

Sources:

Seat Belts,  AAA Exchange, Nov. 17, 2017.

Seat Belt Use in 2016 – Overall Results, Dept. of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Pub. # DOT HS 812 351, Nov., 2016.

Traffic Safety Facts: Highlights of 2009 Motor Vehicle Crashes, Dept. of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Pub. # 811363.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

The information on this web site is offered for informational purposes only. It is not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice. Laws vary widely from state to state. You should rely only on the advice given to you during a personal consultation by a local attorney who is thoroughly familiar with state laws and the area of practice in which your concern lies. This web site must be labeled advertisement in some jurisdictions.