Several tragic deaths have occurred recently on our roadways, and while these traffic accidents were caused by other factors, one fatal similarity is cause for alarm to the personal injury attorneys at Briggs & Wholey. In each of these accidents, occupants who were killed were not wearing their seat belts. How devastating it must be for friends and family to endure a loss such as this at the beginning of the holiday season. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected.
While we cannot bring those family members back, we can offer a safety reminder regarding the use and effectiveness of seat belts this winter holiday season. Lamentable deaths such as these are largely preventable. In fact, seat belt use remains the most effective automobile tool for saving lives. They are even more effective when used in conjunction with airbags.
All states, except New Hampshire, have mandatory front seat belt laws. (New Hampshire law requires restraint use for drivers and occupants under the age of eighteen only). Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia require mandatory safety belt compliance for all vehicle occupants. Enforcement can be primary or secondary. A primary law allows police officers to ticket an offense when observed without restriction, whereas a secondary law provides that a citation can only be written where an additional infraction occurred. Fines vary widely between states ranging between $10-$200.
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration "research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent." In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway safety reports that "for people in front seats of SUVs, vans and pickups, the use of lap and shoulder belts reduces the risk of a fatal injury by 60 percent and a moderate to critical injury by 65 percent.
So that covers drivers, but what about passengers? The statistics are similar- seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to back seat passengers 44 percent for cars, and 73 percent for SUV's or vans. Furthermore, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports, "exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury or death to other occupants in the vehicle by 40 percent." So why wouldn't you wear a seat belt?
Actually, most people do wear their seat belts; statistically our national average is approximately 84 percent. In Maine, for the year 2010 the average was slightly below the national average at 82 percent. At first glance, the numbers may be encouraging, however approximately 25% percent of Maine traffic fatalities involve unsecured drivers. With statistics such as these, there is certainly room for improvement.
So where do we start? With you. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that those riding in the vehicle with us are using a seat belt. Traditionally, studies indicate that teenagers, males, pick-up truck drivers, and drunk drivers are less likely to wear safety restraints. Urban drivers are more likely to wear seat belts, than rural drivers. Rear-seat passengers and those riding alone are also less likely to buckle-up.
In addition, stronger legislation would improve highway safety. "Click it or Ticket" campaigns have been proven to increase seat belt use, as have primary enforcement laws and higher fines. However, few states actually impose points for violations. Furthermore, improvements by automakers to seat belt manufacture (for adaptability of fit and tension control) and belt detection systems for the entire automobile would help promote compliance.
Seat belts save lives. The Department of Transportation Center for Statistics and Analysis estimates nearly 12,546 lives were saved due to seat belt use in 2010.
Belt Fit and Condition Are Important
- Seat belts should be positioned to cross the middle of the chest and shoulder, and the lap belt should lie across the pelvis. This will appropriately distribute weight at impact to stronger areas of the body able to withstand such pressure.
- Belts should always lie flat, be kept away from the neck, and the shoulder strap should never be placed behind your back or beneath your arm.
- Even pregnant women should wear seat belts at all times.
- Check with your auto dealer or manufacturer if fit is an issue as belt "adjusters" and "extenders" are available.
- If you have been in an accident already, your seat belt should be replaced as its structural integrity has been compromised.
There are plenty of inherent risks to driving on our roadways, your probability of surviving an auto accident unsecured, should never be among them. Please, buckle up! And make sure everyone else in the car does too!
Photo Credit: Alvimann, Morguefile