The Importance of Wearing a Seatbelt

People usually fail to appreciate the importance of following safety rules until something bad happens. That is what happened to former New Jersey governor Jon Corzin. He was involved in a car accident in 2007 that broke his leg, 11 ribs, collarbone, sternum, and lower vertebra, as well as enough damage to his face to require plastic surgery. He was not wearing his seatbelt at the time. To add insult to injury, as a senator in 2001 he proposed a law that required minors to wear seatbelts.

Corzine’s experience lent a lot of weight in his public service announcements urging people to wear their seatbelts. A seatbelt may not have prevented the accident, but it may have helped him avoid the worst of his injuries, which kept him from performing his duties as governor for a number of weeks.

The way seatbelts work

Seatbelts mainly keep you from slamming into hard objects. You may better appreciate its importance when you understand how it works.

When you travel in a car, although you are sitting still, you are actually travelling at the same speed as the car. If the car is travelling at 60 km/h and hits (or is hit by) another object that causes it to stop, you will continue to travel at 60 km/h for a split second. The law of inertia states that an object in motion will continue to be in motion until it hits resistance. In your case as a passenger in a car, that resistance is what can hurt of injure you. This includes the windshield, dashboard, the steering wheel, or the seat in front of you.

Aside from the initial impact of body to hard plastic or metal, being thrown forward in your seat can also cause damage to internal organs, joints, tendons, and the brain. Even in a minor collision where you bump your head on the dashboard, the injury to your brain can be more extensive than the bruise on your forehead.

The seatbelt serves as the softer alternative to the dashboard or windshield. It secures you to your seat so most of you stays put in your padded seat. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seatbelts that have a lap belt as well as a shoulder harness wrap around your body in a such as way that it helps to keep the worst of the impact on the more durable parts such as the shoulders, chest, and hips. It also has a bit of give so that you don’t stop quite as abruptly as your car, which also helps. The University of Washington reports that seatbelts can reduce the risk of death by as much as 86%, and the James Madison University states that it reduces the risk of serious injury by half. On the other hand, a shoulder harness alone can actually increase your risk abdominal and chest injuries.

Proper use

A seatbelt only works properly if you use it properly. The lap belt should be cinched across the lap and pelvis, not across the tummy where it can cause injury. The shoulder harness should be across the chest and collarbone, and not under the arm or behind the back. Standard seatbelts will fit adults from 4’8” tall and 80 lb. Anyone smaller should not sit in front and should use a bolster seat.

Legal implications

All states with the exception of New Hampshire require you to buckle up, and not doing so is a traffic violation for which the police can stop and cite you in most states. The reason for the mandatory seatbelt law is that each death resulting from a vehicular accident costs a significant amount of change for everyone involved. Aside from the financial cost to insurance companies and taxes, there is the physical and emotional cost to crash victims.

You spend a loot of money trying to keep safe and healthy, which can all account for nothing in just one serious accident. Wearing your seatbelt is such a little thing, and it costs nothing to make it a habit. Do yourself a favor and just do it.

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