Nearly 91% of people in the United States use a seat belt these days. But that still leaves a significant number of people opting to not wear a seat belt — a choice that can have fatal consequences. 

Still wondering if seat belt use really matters, or do you know someone that refuses to buckle up? Learn these seat belt safety facts. 

Fact: Wearing a seat belt is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself in a vehicle.

14,955: That’s the number of lives it’s estimated that seat belts saved in 2017. That same year, there were a total of 37,133 individuals killed in motor vehicle crashes, and 47% of those were not wearing safety belts. 

Buckling up in a car reduces your risk of moderate to critical injury by 50%, and fatal injury by 45%. In an SUV, pickup, or van, you reduce your risk of moderate to critical injury by 65% if wearing a seat belt, and fatal injury by 60%. 

Relying on air bags rather than seat belts is a mistake. Airbags and seat belts are designed to work together to reduce injuries and save lives. If an airbag inflates and you’re not wearing a seat belt, the force could severely injure or kill you. 

Fact: Seat belts are designed to protect. 

The design of today’s seat belts — with a lap band across the upper thighs and a shoulder belt crossing the body — is no accident. 

Seat belts are designed to hold you in place, protecting you from being ejected from the vehicle or smashing into the dashboard, steering wheel, other interior surfaces, or into passengers. If you were to be thrown from a vehicle during a crash, you’d continue to move at the same speed outside the vehicle, until you collided with something else. Seat belts protect you from those forces of gravity and inertia. 

If a driver or passenger is thrown from a vehicle, they’re at much higher risk of fatal injury: They are twice as likely to die if the crash is a non-rollover crash, and four times as likely to die if it’s a rollover crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

Seat belts are also designed to distribute the forces of a crash across the resilient bony parts of the body: the shoulder, rib cage, and pelvis. This restraint protects your internal organs, your face and head, and secures you inside the vehicle.

Part of that protection includes a quick release design. The chances of being trapped inside your vehicle by your seatbelt are low, even if you were to be in a crash involving a body of water or fire (data show that less than one half of one percent of all crashes involve submersion or car fires).

Fact: Seat belts work best if everyone in the vehicle wears one. 

Sometimes, a group of friends or family members pile into a car, and one or more of them don’t wear their seat belt. 

But if you’re the driver, you should insist that every single passenger buckle up. That’s because those passenger vehicle occupants who don’t wear their seat belt put others at risk: Exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury and death to others in the car by 40%. 

In a head-on crash, if a rear seat passenger isn’t buckled and is sitting behind a belted-in driver, the driver has a 137% increased risk of fatality, compared with having a belted rear seat passenger. 

This is a good thing to remember if you’re riding in an Uber, Lyft, or taxi, since many times rear-seat passengers neglect to buckle up in ridesharing situations. 

Fact: Proper use and fit of seat belts makes a difference.

All shapes and sizes need seat belts and need to wear them properly. Both the lap and shoulder belt should be secured properly. The lap belt should sit across your pelvis, not across your stomach. The shoulder belt should rest across the middle of your chest and away from your neck. 

If you feel like seat belts are tricky to fit, ask your car dealer or manufacturer for seat belt adjusters or extenders. Older cars that just have lap belts can be retrofitted with seat belts that meet today’s safety standards. 

Even pregnant women should wear seat belts and wear them properly. Doing so is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself and your baby. 

No matter how long you’ll be in the car, or how fast or slow the speed limit, wearing a seat belt is absolutely necessary to stay safe. Next time you drive or ride in any vehicle, make sure you buckle up!

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