According to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more people died in auto accidents on U.S. highways last year than any other year dating back to 2008. The 35,200 fatalities (nearly 100 people per day) represent a 7.7 percent increase over 2014.
Researchers say one reason is cheaper gas, which encourages people to drive more. However, they noticed another contributing factor for the rise that may surprise you – not wearing seat belts.
- Two Alabama teens died when the vehicle in which they were passengers left the road and hit a guardrail. Both teens were pronounced dead at the scene. Neither were wearing seat belts.
- According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, a 29-year-old woman was driving a VW Beetle south on Highway 5, just north of Camdenton, when she crossed the center of the road and crashed into a northbound garbage-collection truck. The driver of the Beetle died in the crash; she was not wearing a seat belt. The truck driver sustained minor injuries and was treated at an area hospital.
- Police determined that a 63-year-old Alaskan man that was killed in a single-vehicle accident was traveling at a high rate of speed when he failed to negotiate a corner and crashed in to a ditch. He was the sole occupant of the vehicle and was deceased when found. Police said he was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
- The Montana Highway Patrol recently reported that the driver of a Ford Explorer towing a camper trailer lost control and over-corrected. The vehicle then went off the left side of the road and rolled over. The driver was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife was wearing a seat belt and suffered minor, non-life threatening injuries.
If the deceased had been wearing seat belts, their family and friends might not be mourning them today.
While some auto accidents are so devastating that no amount of safety equipment could have saved the driver or passengers, seatbelts continue to be the single most effective way to save lives, according to the NHTSA. Research has found that seat belt use reduces serious injuries and deaths by approximately 50 percent. Yet, despite the effectiveness of seat belts millions of drivers and passengers neglect to buckle up. Some erroneously think that air bags are a replacement for seat belts. That can’t be further from the truth. The NHTSA says is that “air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.” In the event of an accident, if the air bag deploys and someone is not wearing a seatbelt, the forward momentum and the force of the air bags can injure or even kill the person. Additionally, the NHTSA says it is not only important that you buckle up, but that you do it properly. The shoulder belt must be placed across the middle of your chest and away from your neck. The lap belt needs to be across your hips below your stomach. Make sure children are always properly buckled into the back seat in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt, whichever is appropriate for their age, height and weight.
Although nationwide campaigns like “Click it or Ticket” have proven highly effective in raising awareness on this issue, here are ways we can all increase seat belt safety.
- Buckle up before you start the car. Ask all occupants to do the same.
- Make sure children under the age of 12 are seated in the back–in the middle, whenever possible.
- Place kids in child safety seats that are properly adjusted and attached to the seat.
- Participate in safety belt awareness campaigns in your community.
- Advocate for primary enforcement in your state. Primary enforcement permits a police officer to stop and ticket a driver for the seat belt violation, whereas secondary enforcement permits an officer to ticket violators only if they are pulled over for another, primary offense such as speeding.
Don’t take the decision to buckle up lightly. That thin piece of cloth could be the difference between life and death.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.