17 Jul Buckle Up: Your Seat Belt is Your Driving Life Preserver
The most ubiquitous of all automotive safety equipment, the seat belt has been proven time and again to save lives even in some of the worst car accidents. While it is there to protect, a driver’s best protection is to drive safely and stay alert.
Though life preservers aren’t always in use out on the water, they are nonetheless a vital piece of equipment in any boating trip. According to a study funded by the U.S. Coast Guard, of the 401 drowning deaths in the United States, where life jacket use or non-use was known, 84% of individuals who drowned were not using a life preserver. In an emergency, a life jacket or life preserver could mean the difference between life and death.
The same principle applies to wearing seat belts in an automobile. In 2015, over 35,000 individuals died in motor vehicle crashes, 48% of whom did not wear a seat belt, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like a life preserver, a seat belt only comes into effect in dire situations, but putting one on is a simple act that NHTSA said saved an estimated 13,941 lives in 2015.
Some facts about buckling up:
- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of a fatal injury in an SUV, van, or pickup by 60% (70%for rear passengers) and by 45% in a car.
- More than half of teens and adults who die in crashes each year are unrestrained at the time of the accident.
- A majority of accidents occur within 20 – 30 miles of your home or office and at speeds of less than 40 mph.
- You and your vehicle are not one entity. When your car crashes it will rapidly stop, and, without restraints, your body will keep moving at the previous speed until you hit the steering wheel, dashboard, window, or something outside the vehicle. Our bodies are not designed to withstand the force that accompanies that kind of collision.
- Airbags are not effective alone. Airbags are designed to work with the seatbelt, and most vehicles do not have side airbags. In addition, drivers can slide under airbags without a safety belt holding them in place.
- An unbelted passenger increases their risk of injuries or death by 40%.
- In a frontal crash, an unrestrained rear passenger sitting behind a belted driver increases the risk of death to the driver by 137%.
Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seat belt in 1959 as a solution to the less-effective lap belts of the time. Bohlin’s belt was designed to absorb impact from the chest and pelvis, which can take greater impact than other parts of the body. The belt was anchored low to the seat, ensuring that a passenger or driver would not be thrown from the vehicle during a crash or a vehicle rollover. Accessibility was also a motivating factor, hence the simple pull-and-click that lets riders secure their seats in a couple seconds.
Simply buckling your seat belt isn’t enough, however. The NHTSA offers some basic guidelines for putting the V-shaped harness to its best use:
- Secure the lap and shoulder belts across your pelvis and rib cage, respectively.
- The shoulder belt should lay across your chest, away from your neck.
- Your seat belt should never be placed behind your back or under your arm.
- Seat belt practices should be adjusted accordingly for children or pregnant women.
Not a Cure-All
Though seat belt use could save thousands of lives per year, it is still an aid and should not replace good driving practices. More than 90% of drivers and passengers reported regular seat belt use in 2016, according to NHTSA, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Seat belts should not be treated as a cure-all for traffic accidents and collision-related injuries. In addition to wearing a seat belt, drivers should do the following for safer driving:
- Stop cell phone use while driving. Even speaking with a hands-free device can cause a distraction.
- Don’t drive while impaired. This includes driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription medication, and over-the-counter drugs.
- Drive slower. The National Safety Council reports that at least a third of fatal crashes in 2012 were attributed to speeding.
Like a nautical life preserver, the automotive seat belt is a safety device designed for the absolute worst-case scenarios. While both are necessities in their respective modes of transportation, neither can completely replace safe practices.
NHTSA estimates that an additional 2,814 car -related deaths could have been prevented with seat belt use in 2015, but that is still a fraction of fatal accidents that occur every year. The best way to ultimately prevent a serious car accident is to follow traffic laws and stay alert and aware of the road around you.