Can Wearing a Seat Belt Save Your Life in a Car Accident? 

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Seat belts have been shown to save lives during car accidents. In fact, buckling up is one of the safest decisions every motor vehicle driver and passenger can make. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calls it the most effective step you can take to protect yourself in a collision. 

Research shows wearing a seat belt in the front seat of the vehicle reduces the risk of moderate-to-critical personal injury by 50 percent and fatal injury by 45 percent. Fortunately, the message about the importance of seat belts seems to be making an impact. In 2021, the national rate of seat belt use was over 90 percent, according to NHTSA. 

This discussion reviews the importance of seat belts for every driver and passenger. 

Seat Belts Offer Five-Way Protection

If the statistics have not convinced you of the importance of buckling up on every trip, it may help to understand all the ways a seat belt protects occupants from injury: 

  • Seat belts keep occupants inside the vehicle. Ejected individuals are four times more likely to be killed than those who remain inside the vehicle. 
  • Seat belts help to slow the body down. This is beneficial because many car accident injuries are caused by a sudden change in speed. 
  • Seat belts restrain the strongest parts of the body. In adults, for example, this would be the shoulders and the hips. 
  • Seat belts protect the brain and spinal cord. Injuries to these areas can be life changing. Seat belts stabilize and secure these critical parts of the body. 
  • Seat belts disperse force during a collision. Lap-and-shoulder seat belts spread force out to prevent serious injury to a particular area of the body. 

It Is Dangerous to Wear a Seat Belt Incorrectly

It is not enough to “click it.” You must wear your seat belt properly to protect the body and prevent injuries in an accident. 

If you are wearing a lap and shoulder belt, it should be secured across the rib cage and the pelvis. The shoulder belt should cross the middle of your chest and sit away from the neck and face. The lap belt should cross over the hips, not the stomach. Never put the shoulder strap under your arm or behind your back. 

If you do not wear your seat belt as intended, it can cause devasting trauma to the body during a collision. 

Infants and Children Have Different Seat Belt Needs

Try not to think of children as little adults when it comes to proper restraints. Because the skeletal structure of a child is different than one of a fully grown adult, seat restraints for children are designed to work and fit differently. 

When it comes to children, the safest way for them to travel in the car depends on their age, height, and weight. If you have youngsters, NHTSA is a great resource for infant and car seat guidelines and proper seat belt use for children once they graduate to a booster seat. 

Fit Matters When Using Seat Belts

Proper fit is another vital component of effective seat belt use. Seat belts should be snug, but not constricting. A seat belt that is too loose will not properly restrain the passenger in a collision. If you are buying a new car, check the seat belts to ensure they fit well. If you need a longer seat belt, contact your vehicle’s manufacturer to ask about extenders that will give you more room. 

Seat Belt Use in the United States

Once it becomes clear how effective seat belts are at saving lives during a collision, you might be surprised to learn how many adults do not wear them all or most of the time. 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate just over six percent of adults in the United States do not wear their seat belt in the car. Men are twice as likely as women to not wear a seat belt. Also, men are two and a half times more likely to be killed in traffic accidents compared with female occupants. 

Location is a factor in seat belt use as well. Research shows states with large rural populations have lower rates of seat belt use compared with states with more urban areas. For example, in Washington, Oregon, and California, where at least eight out of every 10 residents lives in an urban area, the rates of seat belt use are among the highest in the nation. 

Debunking Misconceptions about Seat Belts

It only takes a few seconds to put on a seat belt after you get in the car. You have to wonder why anyone would choose not to do so. Here are some of the more common reasons people give for not buckling up and why they are plain inaccurate.

Seat belts are uncomfortable. A seat belt that is worn properly and fits well will not feel restrictive or uncomfortable. Innovative materials and clever engineering make today’s seat belts much more comfortable and effective than when they first became mandatory in vehicles back in the 1960s. To customize your seat belt for a proper fit, ask your auto dealer about clips and extenders for your specific vehicle make and model. 

I am afraid the seat belt will trap me during a collision. Many people express a fear of becoming trapped in their vehicle, especially in a water- or fire-related accident. However, these accidents account for just one percent of overall collisions. If you are properly restrained, you have less chance of being knocked unconscious on impact. That means you can stay alert and take steps to escape if you are involved in this type of accident. 

The air bags will protect me. The advent of air bags has certainly made modern vehicles safer than those of the past. However, air bags are not enough and are not designed to keep the entire body in position and protect it from significant injury during a crash. Air bags alone cannot save your life in a high-speed, high-impact collision. 

Some drivers and passengers wrongly assume they do not need to buckle up if their car has front and side airbags. What they do not realize is force of the air bag can seriously injure or kill occupants who are not properly restrained by seat belts during an accident. Your seat belt is always the first and best line of defense against crash injuries. 

I am just going around the block. Resist the urge to skip buckling up because you are just going for a short drive. The reality is most traffic-related fatalities happen within 25 miles of your home. It is not safe to assume you will not encounter an aggressive driver simply because you are close to home. An accident can happen anywhere at any time. 

If this discussion has not provided enough reasons to wear your seat belt, perhaps the state’s occupant protection laws will persuade you. Under Maryland law, a person cannot operate a motor vehicle unless and until every occupant is restrained by a seat belt or child safety seat. If the vehicle is pulled over, each violator can be ticketed and fined. 

Seat belts are designed to save lives. And they work. Putting on your seat belt should be the first thing you do every time you get in any vehicle, whether you are driving to the store or embarking on a cross-country road trip adventure.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Protect the Rights of Injured Clients

Seat belts are essential. However, they are not always enough to keep occupants from suffering trauma to the body during a serious collision. If you or someone you care about was hurt by a careless driver, the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help. We are committed to building the strongest claim possible to recover full and fair compensation for your injuries. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.