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How Does a Seatbelt Protect You in a Car Accident?

Your car’s seat belts are one of its most important safety features. There’s a reason that every state has some type of seat belt legislation (New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t require adults to wear a seat belt, but it does require minors to do so). Studies have shown time and time again that seat belts save lives.

But how much of an impact do seat belts make? And how do they protect you? This guide will cover everything you need to know on seat belts, including the stats, benefits, how they work and the protection they provide.

Car Accidents with and without Seat Belts: The Stats

In the event of a car crash, seat belts reduce your risk of suffering an injury and even death. If you are in a car accident, wearing a seat belt will lessen the severity of your injuries. Here’s what the statistics say regarding the risk of not wearing a seat belt:

  • If you’re sitting in one of the front seats of a passenger car that gets in an accident, wearing your seat belt decreases your risk of suffering a fatal injury by 45 percent, and decreases your risk of suffering a moderate to critical injury by 50 percent.
  • If you’re sitting in a light truck that gets in an accident, wearing your seat belt decreases your risk of suffering a fatal injury by 60 percent, and decreases your risk of suffering a moderate to critical injury by 65 percent.

Here are a few crash statistics from 2015 that explain how important it is to buckle up and why doing so can save your life:

  • In 2015, there were 35,092 accident-related deaths
  • 48 percent of those 35,092 weren’t wearing their seat belts when they got into those car accidents.
  • Seat belt use saved the lives of an estimated 13,941 people in 2015.

Now, keep in mind that, among people in the United States, the seat belt usage rate is 90.1 percent. Despite the fact that only 9.9 percent of Americans neglect to use their seat belts, those non-users make up 48 percent of the casualties in car accidents.

You can likely attribute some of this to riskier driving behaviors. After all, if a driver takes the risk of driving without a seat belt, it stands to reason that they may commit other riskier driving behaviors, such as speeding. But the more significant factor in preventing higher death and injury rates is simply to just wear your seat belt at all times. Let’s take a look at how.

How a Seat Belt Works

Before we go over the seat belt, it’s important to understand what happens to your body in a car accident. When you’re in a car, your body is moving at the same speed as the car. If you’re driving on the freeway going 70 miles per hour, then your body is also traveling at 70 miles per hour.

A car accident may stop your car, but it doesn’t stop your body, which still has that forward momentum. Without anything to hold you in place, your body would go flying forward while your car stopped. This could send you flying out of the car or cause you to collide with part of the car.

A seat belt holds your body in place during a car accident. The modern version of the seat belt is the three-point seat belt, which has the shape of the letter “y.” When you get into a car accident while you’re wearing a three-point seat belt, the seat belt disperses your body’s momentum into your chest, your shoulders and your pelvis. Depending on the speed you were going and the suddenness of the impact, this could still leave you sore and bruised, but it will keep you in your seat.

The three-point seat belt is a combination of two earlier versions of the seat belt – the lap belt and the sash belt.

The lap belt is still the seat belt of choice in airplanes, and it used to be common in cars. Many cars would have three-point belts in the front seats and lap belts in the back seats. The problem with the lap belt is that it only disperses your body’s momentum in that one area. All that force near your waist can cause spinal damage and even paralysis.

The sash belt has typically been used with lap belts in cars, but originally, it was a completely separate component. This meant that the occupant could use only the lap belt or only the sash belt. Just like the lap belt, the sash belt alone has a dangerous issue. If you get in a car accident while wearing only the sash belt, you could slide forward underneath the sash belt, which means it doesn’t provide sufficient protection.

Auto manufacturers began combining the lap belt and sash belt into one component, thus creating the modern three-point seat belt found in almost every vehicle. This has all the benefits of the previous two types of seat belts without their weaknesses.

Benefits of Wearing a Seat Belt: How Your Seat Belt Protects You

The most obvious benefit of a seat belt is that it keeps you in your seat during a car accident. But the way a seat belt functions benefits you in several key ways, including the following:

  • It ensures you stay inside the vehicle during a car crash.
  • It prevents you from colliding with the dashboard, steering wheel, windshield or any other components of your car.
  • It disperses the force your body absorbs from the accident and applies that force to areas where your body is most durable.
  • It deaccelerates your body.

There’s a dangerous myth out there that you’re better off getting ejected from the vehicle during a car accident than remaining inside. It’s a common piece of false information cited by those who incorrectly believe seat belts don’t help in a car accident.

The great thing about a three-point seat belt isn’t only that it disperses the force of a crash, but where it disperses that force. Your hips and shoulders can handle the most force without serious injury.

Finally, a seat belt will help your body slow down during an accident. Sudden changes in speed are a common cause of injury, and with a seat belt on, the change won’t be as fast. This greatly reduces your risk of suffering whiplash or other serious injuries. Both head and spine injuries can be fatal, leave you impaired for life, or cause a difficult recovery process.

Your safety may be the most important benefit of wearing a seat belt, but it’s not the only benefit. It can also save you money for these three reasons:

  • By reducing your likelihood of injury, a seat belt also reduces potential healthcare costs.
  • Wearing a seat belt can lower your car insurance premiums.
  • You won’t be at risk of getting a seat belt ticket.

Even if you have health insurance that covers everything related to a car accident, an injury will still cost you time and money. You’ll need to visit the doctor for checkups and possibly participate in physical therapy, along with paying your deductible and accruing other out-of-pocket costs.

If you avoid accidents, don’t get any tickets and practice safe driving habits, insurance carriers typically reward you with driver discounts. If your carrier finds out that you haven’t been wearing a seat belt, you’ll likely no longer qualify for this type of discount.

Seat belt laws vary by state, but in every state, minus New Hampshire, drivers are legally required to wear their seat belts. Some states consider not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, which means police officers can pull you over and write you a ticket for that offense. Other states consider not wearing a seat belt a secondary offense. This means police officers can’t pull you over for it, but if they pull you over for another offense, they can also add a ticket for not buckling up.

Wearing a Seat Belt Correctly

To get the maximum protection from your seat belt, you need to wear it correctly. Fortunately, modern seat belts are simple enough to operate.

The most common error with wearing a seat belt is intentionally using it in a way it’s not intended. For example, you buckle up, but then you put the shoulder portion of the belt behind your back and only wear the lap belt. This exposes you to the dangers of only wearing a lap belt.

It’s important to use your seat belt exactly as it’s designed and to make sure it fits properly. The lap belt portion needs to be snug to your hips. It shouldn’t be so tight that it feels like it’s constricting you, but it also shouldn’t be loose. The shoulder belt portion also needs to be snug, and it should go over your chest and shoulders. Keep it away from your neck, as this could choke you in a car accident.

The last thing to remember about seat belt use is that you should always use your seat belt. Plain and simple. Even if you’re only driving somewhere that’s a couple minutes away, you still need to buckle up. Most accidents occur somewhere close to the driver’s home, and a car accident is just as dangerous whether you’re driving to the grocery store or you’re on a road trip.

Seat Belts Save Lives

Car accidents are among the most common causes of death in the United States, especially among teenagers and young adults.

Thankfully, motor vehicle technology keeps improving, which makes driving much safer. However, all the latest safety features won’t matter if you neglect to put on your seat belt. Air bags are very helpful in a serious crash, but they’re designed to work in conjunction with the seat belts in order to lessen the crash’s impact. They’re not effective on their own.

Wearing your seat belt could result in you walking away from minor, moderate and even severe car crashes unscathed. It will drastically lower your risk of a fatal injury, and it could also reduce the severity of any injuries you do suffer.

Bottom line: whether you’re going around the corner, or across the country, let’s buckle those belts. It’s the best way to keep you safe, which is what we truly care about.

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