How Effective Are Seat Belts?
Injuries resulting from car accidents are common enough to be considered a public health issue. They are one of the biggest causes of death among people age 54 and younger. In 2012, non-fatal car accident injuries sent over 2.2 million adult drivers to the emergency room and cost over $50 billion in medical and lost work costs.
Having your seat belt properly fastened is your best line of defense for preventing injuries or death during a car accident. Some people believe that if their car has airbags, seat belts are unnecessary, but this is untrue. Air bags are most effective when used together with seat belts. When used correctly, seat belts can reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities between 45% and 65%.
When a person is riding in a car, they often forget they aren’t actually part of the vehicle. When a car hits another car or object and a driver/passenger isn’t wearing a seat belt, they don’t stop with the car; the person continues moving at the same rate of speed the car had been before it came to a sudden stop, which can send a person forcefully into the dashboard, steering wheel, the seat in front of them, or out of the vehicle. Seat belts help keep you inside the car and slow down your momentum along with the car.
Having laws requiring seat belt usage is a very effective way of getting people to wear their seat belts. In states that have a primary seat belt law, meaning everyone is required to wear a seat belt and police officers can pull people over for not wearing one, seat belt usage is higher than states without them. In 2011, seat belt usage was at 90% in states with primary seat belt laws compared to 78% in states that don’t. Michigan is one of 33 states to have a primary seat belt law; in other states, police officers can only issue citations for not wearing a seat belt when a car is stopped for another violation. New Hampshire is the only state to not have a seat belt law for people over the age of 18.
Teenagers and young adults are the age groups most likely to not wear seat belts. Car accidents are the top cause of deaths among teenagers and adults age 18-24 sustain more injuries related to car accidents than any other group of adults. In 2012, 55% of teenagers who died in car accidents were not wearing a seat belt at the time.
If seat belts are so effective at keeping people safe, why do so many people still choose not wear them? In many cases, people don’t think they need to wear seat belts because they aren’t traveling very far or at a very high speed. Seat belts need to be worn on any car trip, no matter how near or how far you’re planning on going. Most fatal car accidents occur within 25 miles from home and happen while traveling at 40 miles per hour or less.