Safety Belts Make a Difference
It is estimated that safety belts, the most effective safety devices in vehicles today, save over 11,000 lives each year.
Among passenger vehicle occupants over 4 years old, safety belts saved an estimated 15,434 lives in 2004. If ALL passenger vehicle occupants over age 4 wore safety belts, 21,273 lives (that is, an additional 5,839) could have been saved in 2004.
Ejection from the vehicle is one of the most injurious events that can happen to a person in a crash. In fatal crashes in 2004, 74 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed. Safety belts are effective in preventing total ejections: only
More than one-half of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in traffic crashes in 2004 were unrestrained.
Motor Vehicle Crashes − Who’s at Risk?
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for the age group 4 through 34 years old.39
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for African-Americans from age 1 through 14 years of age and are the second leading cause of death for African-Americans between 15 and 34 years of age.40
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Hispanics from 1-44 years of age, and are the third leading cause of death for Hispanics of all ages.41
Teens have higher fatality and injury rates in motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. They also are less likely to be buckled up than any other age group. (Young people between the ages of 16 and 20 are considered teens for the purposes of this fact sheet.)
In 2004, 62 percent of 16- to 20-year-old passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were not wearing a safety belt.
Young drivers (16-20) have the highest driver involvement rates (based on 100,000 licensed drivers) in fatal crashes. The rate in fatal crashes for teens was 61.75 compared to 29.20 for all drivers in 2004.
Rural Americans face greater risk of being injured or killed in a traffic crash than those who live and commute in urban areas.
The motor vehicle fatality rate in rural areas is more than double the fatality rate in urban areas.
Pickup truck drivers and their passengers, particularly those in rural areas, are the least likely group to buckle up.
Nationally, drivers and passengers in pickup trucks consistently have lower safety belt usage rates than the occupants of automobiles, vans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
According to NHTSA’s 2005 National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), the observed safety belt use rate was only 73 percent in pickup trucks compared to 83 percent in passenger cars and 85 percent in SUVs and vans.
Motor vehicle crashes not only affect the individual crash victim, they affect society as a whole. The following information is taken from a NHTSA report42 that examined the economic costs resulting from motor vehicle crashes during 2000. It provides a broad perspective on the all encompassing affect that traffic crashes have on our society.
The Cost to Employers43
Safety Belt Use Can Reduce These Costs
The following questions and respective answers address some of the key arguments used by opponents of primary safety belt laws.
Question: Doesn’t the State have more important things to do than to devote attention and resources to increasing safety belt use?
Answer: Traffic crashes are a leading threat to public health. Increasing safety belt use is still the single most effective and immediate way we can save lives and reduce injuries on America’s roadways. Safety belts are estimated to save over 11,000 lives in America each year. And those who don’t buckle up are costing all of us money and the consequences of lost productivity.
Question: Doesn’t a primary law infringe on an individual’s freedom of choice?
Answer: A primary safety belt law is no more intrusive of an individual’s freedom than any other law. As with other laws, for example building and fire codes, it is the legitimate responsibility of government to provide for the protection of its citizens.
Question: Will a primary law really make a difference for people who don’t want to wear safety belts?
Answer: States that have changed to primary laws have experienced an average 10-15 percent increase in safety belt use.
Question: Haven’t public education campaigns done a good job of teaching the younger generation about safety belt safety? Don’t we teach teenagers about safety belts and traffic crashes in driver education classes?
Answer: The facts show that education alone does not convince most young people to buckle up. Safety belt use declines from age five to about 25. For those at age 18, safety belt use is far below the national average. Why? Young people—especially young men ages 16-25—simply do not think about being injured or killed. Yet they are the nation’s highest risk drivers, responsible for a large percentage of impaired driving, speeding, and crashes. For this tough-to-reach group, stronger belt laws, enforcement and the fear of losing their driver’s license work when neither education nor fear of death or injury does the job.
Question: What’s wrong with the (secondary) law we already have?
Answer: It only allows for enforcement if a police officer observes another violation, such as speeding or a broken tail light.
Question: Isn’t a secondary law sufficient for getting people to wear safety belts?
Answer: Allowing for primary enforcement procedures enhances the perceived importance of a safety belt use law by both the public and the law enforcement community. This enhanced perception ultimately leads to greater compliance. In 2005, the average safety belt use rate in States with primary enforcement laws was 10 percentage points higher than in States without primary enforcement laws—an indicator that secondary laws alone are not sufficient. Safety belt use enforcement is the only traffic violation
Myth: “I’m better off not wearing a safety belt because, in case of fire or submersion in water, I won’t be able to escape.”
Fact: Most crash fatalities result from the force of impact or from being thrown from the vehicle, not from being trapped. All studies show you are much more likely to survive a crash if you are buckled in. Ejected occupants are four times as likely to be killed as those who remain inside.
Myth: “I don’t need to wear a safety belt. My car has an air bag.”
Fact: Air bags are supplemental restraints and are designed to be used with safety belts. They help protect adults in a frontal crash, but they don’t provide protection in side or rear impact crashes or in rollovers. Safety belts are needed for protection in all types of crashes and work well with air bags to provide optimum safety. In fact, safety belts help prevent air bag injuries by keeping occupants the proper distance away from deploying air bags.
Myth: “I have a right to choose not to wear a safety belt because, if I get hurt, the only one I’m hurting is myself.”
Fact: When someone is injured or dies in a traffic crash, society pays many of the costs, including emergency services, uninsured medical care, tax-supported rehabilitation programs, higher insurance costs, and survivor payments. In addition, a belted driver has a better chance of maintaining control of the vehicle in the event of a crash, protecting passengers and others on the road.