Lying in the morgue or a hospital bed is no fun. Why then do so many travelers refuse to use safety belts when traveling by car’ It’s time we made many more people belt up. Every 14 seconds someone is injured in a traffic accident in the USA. On average someone dies every thirteen minutes. In fact car crashes are the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 3 and 33. If those statistics had been buckled up, if they had been wearing their seat belts, the chances are they would have escaped serious injury or death. Wearing a seat belt drastically increases your chance of surviving a car crash.
Seat belts are the single most effective way of protecting yourself in a motor vehicle. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence 25% of us and perhaps 75% of teens do not. It is time we enforced the wearing of seat belts as an urgent priority. We have come a long way in road safety in a short period of time. In 1983 only 14% of us used our seat belts. By the end of 2002 that figure stood at 75%. Still there is a hardcore of drivers who think that they are somehow invincible or beyond the law. In some countries where penalties are harsher seat belt use is up at 90%.
This means that there are literally thousands of Americans who are taking their lives in their hands each day. Their behaviour and disregard for their own safety is costing us all. Even a small percentage increase on our safety belt levels means thousands of needless deaths and horrific injuries prevented. It also means hundreds of thousands of dollars saved in medical expenses. When we look at the arguments put forward by those who insist that they have the right not to wear a seat belt, those arguments fall down one by one.
The experience of other countries and by some states is that the only way we will bring down fatalities is by being harsher on those who refuse to listen. At the top of the list against wearing a seat belt stand those who say ‘If I choose not to wear my seat belt, that is my affair. ‘ The fact is your choice not to wear a seat belt has an effect on us all. Your decision hits us right in the pocket. Those of us who do the right thing are subsidizing those who don’t. Americans are paying $143 billion per year in injury related costs for people who don’t wear seat belts.
This is made up by emergency medical services, medical treatment and rehabilitation. Choosing not to wear a seat belt means higher health care costs and higher car insurance all round. If more of us wore our seat belts hundreds of millions would be saved in medical and insurance costs. It is a fact that the hospital costs to treat an unbelted crash victim are 50% higher than for those who belted up. Society pays those costs. So those complaining that belt law infringes their personal freedom are, in fact, infringing on the freedom of others.
Besides which are our laws on the wearing of seat belts really that more intrusive than many other laws? If you are not wearing a belt you are hurting other people. You are financially harming everyone and in fact may be teaching your children a potentially dangerous lesson. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children. Children see what you do; they mimic it too. By not wearing a seat belt you may well be about to kill the child with whom you are traveling. Research has shown that a restrained driver is three times more likely to restrain a child.
If a driver is unbuckled there is only a 24% chance that a child will be restrained in that car. It is a fact too that children mirror adult behaviour. Those who refuse to buckle up are sending out a deadly message to their children. Would you leave a carton of eggs sitting loosely on the front seat of a car? You wouldn’t if you didn’t want to risk scrambled eggs on your front window. Can you imagine what would happen to a light child if you suddenly braked’ Yet parents continue to risk their children’s death not to mention horrific facial injuries by not belting up.
Think too of the effect killing someone has on a driver. Accidents will always happen and if a careful driver skids, for instance, and kills an unbelted driver he or she will have to live with that for the rest of their lives. Some think that seat belt laws are just another excuse to pull over and harass minorities. Well the fact is there are many existing laws that already exist to pull over motorists. You could say there would be no need for another. The plain truth is the statistics of death are colour blind. They make no distinction between colour, race or creed.
All races and religions are thrown from cars during crashes. It is a sad fact that African American and Hispanic youth are 50% less likely to buckle up than their white counterparts. Those who are against any stiffening of our present laws point out that we already have laws requiring motorists to wear seat belts. Of course we do but we need to ensure those laws are a sufficient deterrent and that they are enforced properly. Others claim that people do not want safety belt laws at all. Yet anyone with any common sense can see that it is time we all belted up.
Seat belts though are uncomfortable aren’t they and don’t they some times mess up your clothes’ Firstly if this applies to you, check that you have your seat belt adjusted properly. Secondly, while belts can be adjusted and clothes straightened out, broken bones take a long time to heal and scars may be there forever. Now and again it’s tempting to get in the car for a short journey and not bother with the hassle of wearing a seat belt. It does not matter about the length of the journey; the risk is just as great.
Three quarters of all serious motor vehicle crashes occur within a few miles of home. Is it better to be thrown from a car than trapped inside? You have a four times greater chance of being killed if you are ejected from a car. There are only one or two ways to be ejected from most cars. All are painful, severely damaging and highly dangerous. Some people it seems will not be persuaded to get into the simple habit of belting up. Some people seem to be thinking they are invincible and it will not happen to them.
The threat of serious injury, disablement or death is not a deterrent enough. Many of these people are the young and inexperienced road users. Teens have by far the highest fatality rates of motor vehicle crashes, more than any other age group. While learning and coming to terms with the skills needed for driving, they often engage in high risk behaviour such as speeding or driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It may be that the young are more easily distracted while driving. It may be that they have not the experience in coping with some situations.
They may be more likely to underestimate the dangers involved in hazardous driving. Teen fatalities are so high because of all groups they are the hardest to persuade to buckle up. Yet sensible teens should get the message across to the friends that it isn’t cool to be cold stone dead. Those who do buckle up cut the risk of their death roughly by half. Belting up saves lives, reduces injury and saves us all money. Experience at home and abroad shows that telling people about the dangers of not wearing seat belts has little effect.
That same experience shows that where penalties are tougher, where primary laws are seen to be enforced means that those high percentages can be achieved. It should be obvious to everyone who travels in a vehicle that there is simply no excuse not to buckle up. There is no sound argument against this sane and humane policy that will benefit us all. The fact is that wearing a seat belt soon becomes a habit. With practice you will not even notice you are doing it. It is a habit, for once, that is definitely worth forming.