All it takes to buckle up is 3 seconds yet a confounding 11.5% of Americans put themselves at risk by not doing so. The result is higher insurance rates and compromised car designs that affect us all. People who don’t wear seatbelts give multiple reasons for not buckling up. For example, some say that if I do get into a crash, I’d have a better chance of survival because I’d be thrown clear of the car. The truth is that you’re far more likely to be killed or seriously injured if you’re ejected from your vehicle. In 2014, about 80% of occupants ejected from vehicles were killed. By design, seatbelts are meant to keep you contained in your vehicle during a crash. Others say that I do not need to be belted just to drive a few blocks away. The truth is that most car crashes occur at less than 40 miles per hour and most fatal crashes occur within 25 miles of home. Others say that my car has airbags so wearing a seatbelt won’t add protection. The truth is that airbags are meant to work with seatbelts, not to replace them. They deploy in a fraction of a second and can hit your face and body at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. In a crash, if you’re not wearing a seatbelt, you could be thrown into an airbag as it inflates which could cause severe injury or death.
Statistically speaking, you are twice as likely to die in a crash if you are not wearing a lap/shoulder seatbelt.
Your chances are even worse if you’re in a light truck or SUV. Rear seat passengers are 3 times more likely to die in a crash if they are unbelted, and a driver wearing a seatbelt is more than twice as likely to be killed in a frontal crash when an unbelted person in the back seat is hurled forward.
In 2010, NHTSA studied the social and economic costs of motor vehicle crashes. The conclusion? A direct cost to society of $242 billion dollars that year. When pain and suffering were included, it came to $836 billion dollars. Seatbelts saved 12,500 lives and prevented 308,000 serious injuries that year. Those of us not directly involved in crashes pay far more than 75% of all crash related costs, direct and indirect. Those costs are primarily related to higher insurance premiums, taxes, traffic delays, and excess fuel consumption because of traffic, according to the NHTSA’s study.
Modern cars are designed to protect unbelted occupants in a crash, but those protections result in compromises that can actually reduce safety and comfort. The belted occupant is subject to a much larger, more powerful airbag than necessary. Modern cars take into account how passengers are seated, their weight, and whether or not they’re belted, then adjust the force at which airbags deploy accordingly. Airbags could in fact be made smaller if federal standards didn’t require them to protect unbelted occupants. In Europe, where a higher percentage of people use seatbelts, regulators don’t require auto makers to build airbags to protect unbelted passengers, so airbags are smaller. If the U.S. adopted similar regulations, belted occupants actually could be much safer, although that would mean unbelted occupants would be at a much greater risk. According to BMW safety engineers, cars could be made roomier and lighter, reducing emissions and fuel consumption, if the U.S. requirements to accommodate unbelted passengers were not in effect.