Seat belts are easy to use and have saved more than a million lives, but buckling up remains something that at least a quarter of North American drivers and passengers refuse to do.

“No driver should be so obstinate,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck.”Crashes are simply too common and costly and seat belts too easy to use and too highly protective to warrant such resistance. Protect your future and set an example for your family. Always buckle your seat belt.”

Alternate description

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

Of the 33,000 crash-related deaths that occurred on America’s roadways in 2009, more than half of the victims were not wearing seat belts. With the exception of New Hampshire, all states and territories require their use. Even so, about one in seven Americans and one in 12 Canadians do not buckle up.

Crash-related injuries send travelers to emergency rooms every 14 seconds. Every 12 minutes , someone loses a life. Even at speeds well below 35 miles per hour, serious injuries and deaths occur. More often than not, seat belt use determines who survives a crash and who dies.

During a crash, seat belts prevent drivers and passengers from being thrown about and thrown from their vehicles, which is almost always deadly. More than three out of four people ejected during a crash die as a result.

In the United States, seat belt use is mandatory, except in New Hampshire. In Canada, seat belt use is mandatory throughout the provinces. Laws and penalties in the U.S. and Canada, including those pertaining to child restraint, vary depending on state and province, age of a rider and in what seat he or she is sitting.

However, fatalities are actually a very small part of a crash’s devastation. For every crash-related death, there are 19 hospitalizations for injuries and another 300 injuries that require medical attention.

Traffic crashes exact a substantial toll on business. Every year, employers pay over $60 billion in crash-related medical and legal costs, property damage and lost productivity. Premiums rise for workers’ compensation as well as for health and disability insurance.

The average on-the-job crash costs an employer $16,500. When an injury is involved, expenses increase to $74,000. When a fatality occurs, the financial outlay often exceeds $500,000.

For all employers or those who drive as part of their jobs, driver safety programs with mandatory seat belt use can reduce employee risk and protect bottom lines. Additionally, employers should stress the necessity of seat belt use when commuting to and from work.

What seat belts do:

  • Keep occupants inside the vehicle. Most fatalities and serious injuries occur when people are ejected.
  • Restrain the strongest parts of the body, the hips and shoulders.
  • Spread the force of the collision. The less stress on any one area, the less likely a serious injury.
  • Protect the brain and spinal cord by keeping occupants from being thrown about the vehicle.

The human collision

Traffic accidents can occur in a split second, oftentimes with horrifying consequences, particularly when seat belts are not worn. Vehicles stop abruptly, but the occupants do not. At the same speed traveled before the crash, they are vaulted from their seats slamming into steering wheels, dashboards, windshields and each other, which is why buckling up is just as important in the rear seat – most people don’t– as it is in the front. Seat belt use decreases the risk of dying in a car crash by 45 percent and in a truck or SUV crash by as much as 60 percent.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages six to 27 and the fifth leading cause for all ages. Only cancer, heart attacks, strokes and chronic lower respiratory disease claim more lives.

“Buckling up requires little effort and has undeniable benefits,” says Borck. “On and off the clock, make it a habit to always wear your seat belt.”

[Janet Lubman Rathner]