It might shock you to find out that there are still people in the United States who get into their cars and don’t buckle up their seatbelts. These include drivers and passengers in the front or back of a vehicle of all ages. After so many years of having seatbelt safety drummed into our heads, why do approximately 10 percent of the country (and about 6 percent of California motorists) skip using their safety belts?
Common excuses for not wearing a seatbelt
Various U.S. roadway safety agencies survey the public annually to gather intelligence on important topics like wearing a seatbelt when a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle. The most common excuses people give for not doing so include the following:
- My vehicle is equipped with airbags
- I don’t want to risk being trapped in my car following a crash
- Seatbelts can cause serious injuries or deaths themselves
- I drive a pickup truck/van/other large vehicle, so I’m safe enough without it
- I live in a rural area with open roads, so the likelihood of my being an accident is small
- Seatbelts aren’t really necessary if you’re sitting in the back of a vehicle
While these and similar excuses might seem reasonable on the surface, the facts don’t support them.
Airbags are not replacements for seatbelts
Let’s start with the idea that if your car has airbags, they are enough to keep you from being seriously injured in the event of an accident. Although it is true that airbags save many lives, especially when a vehicle is equipped with front and side-deploying airbags, they were developed with the intention of working in conjunction with seatbelts, not as replacements. In the event of a collision powerful enough to cause your airbags to deploy, you will be thrown into the bags as they burst out rapidly and with force. Airbags inflate in approximately less than 1/20 of a second. Slamming into one mid-expansion alone might injure or even kill you depending on how close you were sitting to the bag when it deployed, your height and weight, and other factors. Your seatbelt can save your from being seriously injured or worse by keeping you firmly in your seat during a collision, with your airbags serving as effective secondary protection.
The risk of being trapped by a safety belt is slim
What about the fear of being trapped in a sinking car or one that is on fire by your safety belt? Yes, a jammed seatbelt could keep you from escaping your vehicle. However, the likelihood of being in an accident where your car winds up either submerged or ablaze are quite small (about .5 of a percent of all traffic accidents). And in the off-chance it happens, if you aren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time, chances are you will be so badly injured that you cannot get out of the vehicle anyway. In contrast, if you wear your seatbelt, you will have a far better chance of remaining conscious and mobile post-crash. To reduce the risk of being trapped by your seatbelt, you can purchase and keep a seatbelt cutter in your vehicle just in case. Some cutting tools even come with an automotive window breaker to further assist you in escaping your car if you can’t open a door.
Far more car accident injuries are caused by not wearing a seatbelt
It’s true that seatbelts can cause injuries, sometimes significant, following an accident. The most common of these include:
- Bruised or cracked ribs
- Bruised or cracked sternum
- Shoulder muscle or tendon injuries
- Abdominal pain and possible internal injuries
- Skin cuts and abrasions
Most of these are not life-threatening, and almost all can be avoided altogether by wearing your seatbelt properly fitted across your shoulder and lap. Make sure your seat is adjusted so that the upper body safety restraint isn’t lying against or across your neck and that neither the buckle nor the belt is on or across your abdomen. Children should be carefully restrained using a car seat or booster (depending on their size and weight) to maximize seatbelt effectiveness and avoid potential injuries from wearing a restraint directly against their bodies.
Large vehicles alone cannot protect you from injury in a crash
So what if you’re driving a proverbial tank—a huge pickup truck, a Hummer, or something similar? While you might be less likely to be injured in a collision while driving or riding in a large, sturdy vehicle, a crash will still result in a great deal of force being exerted against your body. Also, don’t forget that top-heavy large vehicles like vans and SUVs put you at greater risk of a rollover, which could lead to you and your passengers being tossed around the interior like salt in a shaker. If you slam into the dashboard, are launched through the windshield, or thrown across the center console, you can expect that you will suffer severe injuries regardless of the size and solidity of your vehicle. For reference, seatbelts have been shown to reduce the likelihood of front-seat passengers and drivers being fatally injured in a larger motor vehicle by 60 percent.
Car accidents can happen anywhere for many reasons
Those living in rural, isolated regions might face a lower risk of being in an accident, but that doesn’t guarantee your safety to the degree that you can disregard basics like wearing your seatbelt. In fact, it is this incorrect assumption that has led to significantly more accident fatalities occurring in rural areas than urban, because a higher percentage of those involved weren’t wearing seatbelts, as compared to urban drivers and passengers who are likelier to do so. Accidents can occur anytime, anywhere, and they don’t always involve another vehicle. Losing control of your car for any reason (e.g., bad weather, mechanical failures, or animal crossings) could still lead to a crash even out in the countryside with no one else around. Don’t compound the outcome of such an accident by not wearing your safety belt.
Front and backseat riders need to buckle up for safety
Finally, sitting in the back seat of a vehicle does not make you safer in a collision than sitting in the front. You might think it isn’t necessary to buckle up in the back of a rideshare, taxi, or friend’s car because you’re unlikely to be thrown through the windshield or that the padded backs of the seats in front of you provide adequate protection. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Many injuries and deaths have been caused by unrestrained rear seat passengers being flung into the driver or passengers seated beside or in front of them. Unrestrained back seat passengers are also at risk of being ejected through side windows or doors that break or fling open during a rollover or spin-out. Do yourself and everyone else you’re riding with a favor and put on that seatbelt regardless of where you’re seated in the automobile.
Consult a Los Angeles car crash attorney
Wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of injury or death in an automobile accident, but still cannot guarantee you will survive a crash unscathed. When you suffer life-altering injuries, contact Los Angeles auto accident lawyer Scott J. Corwin for advice and assistance at 800-946-9440.