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Seatbelts remain best safety feature

December 17, 2011
By DAVE WERNER (dwerner151@ , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Even though there are new safety features available on newer vehicles, such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning, sideview assist, and adaptive headlights (more on these safety features in a future article), the humble safetybelt remains as one of the most effective tools for preventing highway deaths and injuries. This article will discuss some of the seatbelt facts that you may not be aware of. A follow-up article in January will review who is and who is not likely to buckle up, some of the excuses for ignoring the law, and how we can increase compliance.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that seat belts saved nearly 13,000 lives in 2009. The risk of fatal injury declines 45 percent when people use lap and shoulder belts in the front seat and the risk of moderate to critical injuries are cut in half.

Lap and shoulderbelts are designed to keep motorists in their seats during a crash. Without belts, people risk hitting things inside their vehicle and being ejected altogether. Safety belts help to prevent or reduce injuries from this second collision by tying people to their seats so they slow down with the vehicle as its crush zone absorbs most of the kinetic energy associated with the vehicle and occupant's pre-crash motion. The longer people "ride down" a crash, the less likely they are to be injured, according to information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Still not convinced? Then, read on! Worn properly, safety belts are designed to spread crash forces across the stronger bony parts of the upper body. Safety belts also prevent occupants from being ejected from the vehicle, an event associated with high risk of injury and death. Relative to occupants who are not ejected from vehicles, occupants who are ejected in non-rollover crashes are nearly twice as likely to die, and those who are ejected in rollover crashes are 4 times more likely to die.

Seat belts became standard features in 1968 when the federal government required lap and shoulder belts in the front outboard seats of all new cars except convertibles. In 1973 federal regulators upgraded the safety belt standard to require 3-point lap and shoulder belts with inertia reels that lock the belt during rapid deceleration. Lap and shoulder belts have been mandated in rear seats of cars since model year 1990 and in pickups, passenger vans, and SUVs since 1992. A 3-point belt requirement for middle seats was phased in between 2005 and 2007, according to the IIHS.

In spite of the proven safety of seat belts, laws are not uniform in all states. New Hampshire is the only state without a safety belt law for adults. In all other states and the District of Columbia, front-seat occupants are required to use belts. However, adult rear-seat passengers are covered by the laws in only 25 states and the District of Columbia. Incredibly, New York, the first state to require front seat occupants to buckle up, does not require rear seat passengers 16 years and over to wear seatbelts.

So is it a good idea to belt up in the rear seat? Definitely yes! People sitting in back should use safety belts for the same reasons they should use them in the front seat: to reduce serious injuries and fatalities in a crash. Lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 44 percent among back-seat outboard occupants in passenger cars and 73 percent among back-seat outboard occupants of vans and SUVs. In a frontal crash, drivers and front-seat passengers are at increased risk of injury from unbelted back-seat passengers, and in a side-impact crash, passengers sitting adjacent to unbelted passengers are at increased risk of injury. Exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury or death to other occupants in the vehicle by 40 percent. The real question is why would you NOT belt up in ANY seat?

In a few weeks, there will be a follow-up "Did You Know" article on just who is likely to use seat belts and who is not, and some of the reasons given for not buckling up.

To access the more than 200 "Did You Know" articles and more information on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety, go the Franklin County Traffic Safety Board's website at and click on the Traffic Safety Board under departments.



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