As an American adult living in 2015, you probably don’t need to be sold on seat-belts. From a young age, most Americans have been surrounded with television ads, radio commercials, and billboards that broadcast the importance of buckling up. And it worked—nationwide campaigns such as “Click it or Ticket” have managed to make a difference in our nation’s seatbelt usage, helping our national seatbelt usage rate go up from 11 percent before 1980 to more than 80 percent in 2014.
While you may be well aware of the fact that seatbelts can save lives in the event of an auto accident, you may not realize the full extent of just how many lives seatbelts save. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, seatbelts save an average of 13,000 lives in the US each year. NHTSA research also found that 7,000 auto crash fatalities could have been prevented if the victims had been wearing seatbelts. Seatbelts reduce the risk of death for a driver or front seat passenger by an estimated 50 percent.
How is it that seatbelts are able to save thousands of lives every year? To understand the power of seatbelts in preventing auto fatalities, let’s take a look at how seatbelts work.
The Safety Mechanics of a Seatbelt
During an auto accident, multiple systems incorporated in your seatbelt snap into action at the same time. Quicker than the blink of an eye, your seatbelt starts working to minimize the energy load you experience upon collision. Here’s a breakdown of how different seatbelt systems work during a crash, millisecond by millisecond.
.003 milliseconds. Within the first .003 milliseconds, the collision sensors attached to the vehicle detect the collision and send a signal to the electric control unit. A vehicle-sensitive locking feature senses the rate of deceleration and locks the webbing to prevent further extraction.
.0015 milliseconds. Next, the electric control unit assesses the seriousness of the impact. In the event of a crash, the electric control unit will send a signal to activate the gas-emitting devices that are connected to the seatbelt.
.040 milliseconds. At this stage, the load limiter activates as the driver or passenger is moved forward because of the inertial force. The load limiter moves webbing from the housing to help absorb the weight burden on the wearer.
.060 milliseconds. Here, the energy created by the movement of the seatbelt wearer’s torso is absorbed by the load limiter, airbags, and crushing of the vehicle.
5 Ways Seatbelts Prevent Injuries and Fatalities
If this process goes well, seatbelts are able to prevent auto injuries and fatalities in a variety of different ways, including:
- Helping to prevent expulsion. When an accident occurs, occupants that are thrown from the auto are four times as likely to be killed as those who stay within the vehicle.
- Helping to protect the head and spinal cord. Seatbelts help keep the head and upper torso in place, keeping them away from hard surfaces in the auto.
- Preventing the passengers and driver from colliding into each other. When unbuckled passengers are thrown around the vehicle, they can injure themselves and each other.
- Spreading the force of the impact. The seatbelt helps distribute the force of the impact from the collision over a wider area of the body so there is not excessive force impacting any one area.
- Allowing passengers to “ride down” the collision. By holding passengers and drivers securely, seatbelts allow passengers and drivers to take better advantage of the time afforded by the controlled crushing of the vehicle.
When Seatbelts Aren’t Enough
While seatbelts are crucial to preventing and reducing injuries and fatalities, they have limitations. If you are struck by a drunk, or otherwise negligent driver, a seatbelt may not be enough to prevent you and other vehicle occupants from getting seriously harmed or killed. Accident victims wearing seatbelts commonly suffer injuries to their chest, ribs, and shoulders, as well as bruising and other soft tissues to the abdomen.
If you or a loved one has been harmed in an auto accident while you were wearing a seatbelt, seek medical treatment as soon as possible—even if you don’t think your injuries are that serious. Oftentimes, auto accident injuries don’t materialize for days, weeks, or even months after an accident, and only a doctor will be able to judge the full extent of the damage your body suffered.
After seeking medical attention, your next step should be to hold the at-fault driver responsible for the pain and trauma you suffered. By demonstrating that you were wearing your seatbelt responsibly, your attorney can help you obtain maximum compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other recovery-related costs.
About the Author:
John K. Lawlor, a South Florida personal injury attorney who focuses his practice on complex personal injury, wrongful death, and professional malpractice, founded the law firm of Lawlor, White & Murphey in 1998. Since 1995, Mr. Lawlor’s trial advocacy and litigation skills, as well as his wide-ranging legal expertise, have provided plaintiffs and their families with a distinct advantage when seeking financial compensation and justice for injuries caused by the negligence of others. Mr. Lawlor is an EAGLE member of the Florida Bar Association and an active member of the American Association for Justice, the Broward County Justice Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and several professional associations.