What auto device is simple to use, takes just a second to snap into place, and saves thousands of lives each year? Seat belts of course ? probably the single most important tool you have to keep safe while driving.
Seat belt stats at a glance
Accidents do happen, and chances are you`ll be involved with one or more in your lifetime. In fact, according to information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 15,000 passenger vehicle occupants died in evening traffic crashes during 2005, and 59% of those occupants were not wearing seat belts at the time of the fatal crash. This is compared to the 44% of occupants who were not wearing seat belts and were killed during daytime hours in `05.
Sobering statistics, no doubt. The good news is the NHTSA reports 77% of passenger vehicle occupants who were in a serious crash and were wearing seat belts survived. Wearing seat belts has been proven to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 45% for front seat passenger car occupants and by 60% for those in pickup trucks, SUVs and mini-vans.
More good news: According to an `06 NHTSA report, seat belt use across the nation is pretty solid. The average rate was 81%, with seat belt use ranging from 63.5% in New Hampshire and Wyoming to 96.3% in Washington. And 11 states and territories have rates 90% or higher ? including Washington, Michigan, Oregon, California, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Nevada, Maryland, Texas, Georgia and New Jersey.
While these rates are high, the only truly acceptable seat belt usage rate is 100%, 24/7, for all drivers.
Seat belts save more than lives
Interestingly, there`s a huge economic impact related to wearing seat belts. According to an '02 report by the NHTSA, between 1976 and 2002 seatbelts prevented 135,000 fatalities and 3.8 million injuries ? saving an amazing $585 billion in medical and related costs. Their report states if everyone had used seat belts during this period, nearly 315,000 deaths and 5.2 million injuries could have been prevented, saving roughly $913 billion.
That's an incredible amount of savings and potential for more savings during a time when many driving-related costs can be high ? from gasoline to insurance premiums.
Click It or Ticket in action
This year from May 21 until Memorial Day (May 28), the NHTSA is encouraging law enforcement agencies nationwide to take part in the Click It or Ticket campaign, aimed at enforcing seat belt use. Jurisdictions with stronger seat belt laws generally show higher seat belt usage rates than those with weaker laws. A good example is Mississippi, where the seat belt law was changed to a "primary" enforcement law in 2006 and seat belt use jumped from 60.8% to 73.6%.
The NHTSA hopes the Click It or Ticket campaign encourages drivers to consider the legal consequences of not wearing a seat belt, in addition to being aware of the enormous safety benefits seat belt use brings.
Quick tips on proper seat belt use and safety
Just a few quick reminders about the right way to wear your seat belt: First, the belt should be low and snug across the pelvis or lap, and never across the stomach.
The shoulder belt should be across the chest and collarbone, and be snug. It should never be in front of the face or behind the back. Remember, you still need to wear seat belts even if your car has air bags ? in fact, air bags only work properly if you are belted in and they are not designed to replace seat belts.
All children under 12 should be buckled into an appropriate seat, such as a child safety seat in the back. To find out the best child safety seat for your child's weight and age, check with your local children's hospital. Newborns should be placed in rear-facing car seats in the back.
Wearing seat belts is a snap, saves lives daily, and saves billions of dollars. So keep in mind the link between car accidents and seat belts when you take to the roads. We'll all be safer for it.