Safety belts, commonly called seat belts, are harnesses that secure people riding inside cars, trucks, and other vehicles. They are considered the most important traffic safety devices at protecting occupants in the event of sudden stopping or crashes. Wearing a seat belt can reduce risk of injury during a crash by 50 percent. Between 2004 and 2008, more than 75,000 lives were saved by seat belt use.
Use of seat belts has been on the rise and currently averages 88 percent. However, seat belt use is lowest among young drivers. Washington, D.C., and 49 states have mandatory seat belt laws, making it smart for teens to buckle up when driving. Whether seated in the front or back seats, passengers should also use their seat belts.
Despite popular belief, being thrown clear of wreckage during a vehicle crash is one of the worst things that can happen. Occupants thrown from vehicles during crashes are four times more likely to suffer fatal injuries. In 2006, 217 drivers and occupants of trucks alone died when ejected from cabs during vehicle crashes. A safety belt can prevent a vehicle occupant from being thrown through the windshield, dragged on the ground, or crushed by the occupied or another vehicle.
Even experienced drivers should wear their seat belts because they can encounter vehicle problems, bad weather, or bad drivers at any time. By wearing seat belts, drivers protect themselves and prevent ejection from their vehicles. When driving in 2008, one Texas driver sent his truck over a guardrail, dropping 40 feet, when he swerved to avoid another car. Police said that he walked away because he was wearing his seatbelt.
When vehicle occupants do not wear their seat belts, they increase their chances of being killed by almost 25 times. Seat belts contact the body at its strongest points, the shoulders and hips. A child restraint supports the entire body and avoids placing stress on any single area. Seat belts protect the spinal cord and head, keeping it away from hard surfaces of the vehicle interior.
Seat belts also prevent vehicle occupants from injuring each other during a crash. For a vehicle traveling at just 30 miles per hour during a crash, 3.5 tons of force is generated by a passenger flying from the back seat into the front seat. By securing them tightly to the vehicle, seat belts allow occupants to take maximum advantage of extended distance and stopping time provided by vehicle crush zones.
*Photo Courtesy of Victoria Garcia via Creative Commons License