Are Seat Belts Necessary?

Are Seat Belts Necessary?

Lily Cravens

     Car wrecks tend to be one of the leading causes of preventable death each year. “Seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seat belts, in 2017 alone” (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent harm during a crash. However, not everyone believes that seat belts are a necessity. Many individuals state that they are uncomfortable and that they do more harm than good. When most people think about a wreck occurring, they say, “It’ll never happen to me” (“Buckle that Seatbelt, it Could Save Your Life”). No one will ever be able to predict an accident occurring, which makes wearing these safety devices even more important. Seat belts are dire to safety, as it protects people from being ejected from vehicles, it aids airbags because they cannot work alone, and it is against the law not to wear the device. 

     Seat belts have existed since the 19th century, but they were rarely used. Street cars started to have lap belts in the 1930s to keep passengers in the vehicle. “For the next 10 years, they were a popular option, not because of a fear of accidents — there were a few other cars to run into — but because the roads were so bad that occupants bounced out of the vehicles” (Schuon). Nash Motors in Wisconsin became the first automobile company to offer seat belts in 1949. During the late 1950s, the three-point seat belt was introduced by an engineer at Volvo. Wisconsin became the first state to require seat belts in car models built in and after the year 1962. This is the model installed into cars today, where the chest and hips can be secured with one belt. These seat belts became mandatory in all vehicles in the United States in 1968 

     The devices were stated to keep people from “being thrown out of the car” (Janik). In 1984, General Motors began offering air bags to accompany seat belts with pyrotechnic tensioners. “The tensioners use the same sensors and other technology involved in air-bag deployment, and they take up slack that is naturally present in the belts” (Schuon). Over time, technology continues to improve the safety and comfortability of the devices. The more these two factors improve, the more likely people are to wear them. 

     The main reason most people choose to wear a seatbelt is for safety, but more importantly, to keep from being thrown out of their car. Being ejected from a vehicle is most likely fatal; wearing your seat belt can prevent this for drivers and for passengers. “People not wearing a seat belt are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash. More than 3 out of 4 people who are ejected during a fatal crash die from their injuries” (“Policy Impact: Seat Belts”). Buckling can keep you secure inside of your vehicle, no matter where you are sitting. If you fasten your seat belt in the front seat of a car, for example, you reduce your risk of fatal injury by 45% and moderate to critical injury by 50% (“Buckle that Seatbelt, it Could Save Your Life”). Basketball star Bobby Hurley was thrown through the passenger window of his Toyota 4Runner during an accident in 1993. His seat belt was not fastened, and the wreck had caused him to be thrown onto the road. The Department of Transportation figures that only 62% of American drivers use seat belts, even though they are required in most states (Schuon). The majority of drivers and passengers killed in car crashes are unrestricted. More simply put, seat belts prevent people from being ejected during car crashes. 

     Air bags are not enough to protect you in a vehicle; they cannot work alone to save you from harm. “Air bags, in fact, are designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts, which hold occupants in place and position them so the bags can do their job” (Schuon). Air bags are inflatable safety devices that protect occupants from hitting objects either inside or outside of the vehicle. The instant a wreck happens, sensors determine impact severity. If the crash is severe, the sensors signal the air bags to inflate almost instantly. In frontal crashes, driver fatalities are reduced by 29% when front air bags are deployed and by 37% when side air bags are deployed. Airbags offer the most protection when the occupants are wearing seat belts (“Airbags”). They are designed to work alongside seat belts and not to replace them entirely. “If you don’t wear your seat belt, you could be thrown into a rapidly opening frontal air bag” (“Seat Belts”).  In fact, the force of an air bag could injure or possibly kill you. A combination of seat belts and air bags offer the most protection in vehicles (“Airbags”). Air bags cannot work alone; wearing your seat belt is the best way to remain safe during automotive wrecks. 

     Aside from safety reasons to wear a seat belt, it might be against the law not to wear one. In the state of Tennessee, drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear a seat belt at all times when operating a vehicle. If in violation of this law, a person will either have to appear in court or pay a fine of $30.00. This is the penalty for a first violation, but the fine amount continues to increase each time a person violates the law (“Seat Belt Safety Law”). There are similar seat belt regulations for children as well. Children under one year of age weighing 20 pounds or less must be secured in a child passenger restraint system; children age one through age three weighing more than 20 pounds must be secured in a child safety seat; children age four through age eight that measure under four feet nine inches in height must be secured in a belt-positioning booster seat system; children age nine through age twelve measuring over four feet nine inches must be secured in a seat belt system; lastly, children age thirteen through age fifteen must be secured in a passenger restraint system, which includes wearing a seat belt. “The driver of the car is responsible for making sure that children under the age of sixteen are properly restrained and may be charged and fined $50.00 for violation of the law” (“Child Restraint Law”). These laws differ throughout the United States, but in the majority of cases, a seatbelt is required. These regulations prove effective, along with the understanding of its safety features, as the national use rate of seat belts was 91.6% last year (“Seat Belts”).

     When people are asked why they do not correctly wear a seat belt, or do not wear one at all, they state it is because the devices lack comfortability and pose risks of injury (“Buckle that Seatbelt, it Could Save Your Life”). Many people put the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arm in order to feel more comfortable. However, wearing the device in this style increases the risk of injury when in a crash. There are safer ways to make the vehicle more pleasant, such as adjusting the seat to an upright position, keeping distance between a person’s stomach and the steering wheel, and altering the distance between their feet and the pedals (“Seat Belts”). Also, seat belt extenders can be purchased from dealerships, if the regular belt does not fit around a person. Seat belts can cause injuries, especially in severe crashes, like bruises and collarbone and rib fractures. However, these are minor injuries compared to the dangers of not wearing the device (“Seat Belt Safety”). The benefits of wearing a seat belt outway the risks, as a person’s safety is the most important factor in a vehicle. 

     In closing, seat belts are a necessary factor in vehicle safety for everyone involved. Though the belts might be uncomfortable and create a risk of injury, the consequences of not wearing one at all are evident. Buckling up protects people from being ejected from vehicles and it aids the purpose of air bags. Also, it is against the law in multiple states to not wear the device. Car crashes tend to be a leading cause of death each year, and even if wrecks cannot be avoided, wearing this safety device is a simple way to minimize the risk of injury. “Accidents are just that: accidents. They happen with no warning or reason, and they happen to everyone, so wear your seatbelt” (“Buckle that Seatbelt, it Could Save Your Life”).