Why Seatbelts? Occupant Safety Still Relies on Simplest of Devices in a Car Crash

We’ve all seen this happen; children, teens, 20-somethings or full-grown adults — who, we might remind, should know better — riding in moving vehicles without the benefit of a safety belt. Parents are responsible for their children wearing seatbelts or using approved safety seats in the family sedan, minivan or SUV, but what happens when the adults don’t use seat belts? Sometimes very bad things.

As Maryland personal injury attorneys, I and my team of legal professionals have seen more than our share of car, truck and motorcycle accident victims. What everyone of us knows is apparently a well-kept secret among a small, but unnerving percentage of the driving public. What could be so mysterious? That seatbelts save lives and reduce the potential for serious injury in the event of a bad roadway collision.

It may come as a surprise, but there are grown, thinking people who either through stubbornness, arrogance, or mere lack of foresight actively choose NOT to wear a safety belt when driving or riding in a motor vehicle. Never mind the fact that a high-speed crash between a couple passenger cars, or even a medium-speed impact with a commercial truck, can turn an unbelted occupant into a 150-pound missile heading right for the windshield.

Now, we understand that high school physics may have been slightly beyond some people, but parents and other authority figures who do understand the laws of physics and the rules of the road, likely imparted the life-saving characteristics of seatbelts. These are some of the most basic safety items in any motor vehicle, yet it is no secret that individuals who should otherwise know better consciously go without using on a daily basis.

First off, we have to say that neck and closed-head injuries caused by lack of seatbelt use are an near certainty in many serious car and truck accidents. The fact that police departments all around the nation still carry out seatbelt checks is an indication that the problem of non-use is significant enough to merit time, money and manpower directed at enforcing this basic life-saving feature of every modern vehicle on the road.

By the very nature of their name, seatbelts were conceived and designed to save innocent lives in the event of a traffic wreck. With the benefits of seatbelt use so well known, it’s a fair bet that even the staunchest civil libertarian would be hard pressed to advocate the non-use of safety belts simply because state’s like Maryland mandate their use. Still, some people either choose to ignore the facts or are too obstinate to take advantage of safety belts.

The standard lap belt/shoulder belt combination has been arrived at through decades of safety testing. For years, every current car model has been required by federal law to be equipped three-point seatbelts for all passengers. This is a change from older models that may have had only lap belts for rear-seat passengers. In these older vehicles, injuries can actually be caused by a lap belt-only system in the case of a crash. Yet this is no reason to not wear a three-point safety belt on a modern vehicle.

When it comes to the older lap belt-only installations, it has been stated that using properly designed and fitted three-point safety belts could prevent about 6,000 traffic deaths annually in the U.S. Since late 2007, every passenger vehicle has been required to have a three-point system for all backseat passengers. This law was especially beneficial to children, who generally must ride in the rear seat of a vehicle.

What we wish to impart today is that any thinking adult who refuses to use a seat belt under any circumstances is foolish to do so. Far too many people are hurt or killed in senseless car accidents to give any sort of credence to this kind of thinking. And air bags alone cannot always save a person’s life in a serious car wreck.

Just one look at the news across the nation addressed the folly of not wearing a safety belt. In fact, there was an accident just days ago in which a passenger was ejected from a vehicle during a violent car accident on Interstate 70. The driver apparently swerved to avoid a second car, which caused his vehicle to go out of control and cross three lanes of traffic; the car then hit a median barrier and rolled four times.

The 31-year-old victim was only a passenger, yet he was thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. According to news reports, state police investigating the crash said the man was not wearing his safety belt. If that is not an argument for buckling up, we can’t think of any better one. Please be safe; wear your seatbelt and make sure all your passengers do as well.

St. Charles Man Dies in Fatal Car Accident on I-70, Patch.com, August 10, 2012

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