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Steven M. Lee, PC

Q:
Since seat belts can potentially trap you in a car, are they really that safe?

A:

Choice is a highly controversial subject when it comes to practically anything. Any legislature that proposes to limit choice is always going to have to deal with anti- and pro- arguments, protests, and upheaval.

That being said, we’re left to wonder how can society balance the fundamental rights of choice against the need for people to make the right choices when it comes to safety.

Numerous traffic safety associations, past DWI statistics, driver distraction accidents, and human error collisions suggest that we haven’t yet found a way to compel safe behavior. Unfortunately, legislation can’t force drivers to choose to drive safely. It can, however, introduce laws to help decrease consequences of bad driving choices.

As an example, consider seat belt laws.

Seat belts are far more likely to prevent injuries than harm you in a collisionSeat Belt Use Requirements: Advantageous Truths and Dangerous Myths

Every state has its own set of rules on seat belt use. Generally speaking, seat belts are a necessity in all four-wheel motor vehicles in order to provide the restraint option for adults (only 34 states require front seat use for restraint) and the restraint requirement for children (all 50 states have some sort of child restraint law for passengers and drivers under 18 years of age). However, despite the national consensus that seat belts are considered a safety essential, many drivers and passengers still embrace the myth that seat belts cause more harm than good.

  • “Seat belts kill thousands of people every year. It’s best to not wear one.”
  • “If you’re about to crash into another car, you want to be thrown to safety before impact, not tightly belted to suffer the full force.”
  • “Seat belts are a death trap. If your car is on fire or sinking in water, a restraint will keep you from getting free of the danger.”

Although these statements may sound familiar, they’re not accurate.

Myth One: Seat belts kill

Seat belts save lives; they don’t take them. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts are the single most effective traffic safety device for preventing death and injury. In fact, restraints save over 13,000 lives a year and if they were required for all vehicle passengers, car accident fatality rates would be reduced by another 45 percent.

Myth Two: Being thrown to safety is a good thing

Think about this one for a second. Rather than being tightly secured against a seat, you’d rather be jettisoned through a glass window, propelled through the air, and plummet into the hard ground? Probably not.

Being ejected from a vehicle is almost a guarantee of death or critical injury as a result of fractures, pulverized bones, brain or spinal cord damage, broken ribs that can puncture lungs or other internal organs, etc. Ejection accidents create higher-velocity impacts which can cause worse injuries; the force of the collision propels you out and as you fly through the air velocity increases and gravity pulls you down. Furthermore, being thrown from the safety of the car increases the risk of your suffering additional risks from outside forces such as getting run over by other vehicles.

Safety belts are your best defense against ejection and ejection risks.

Myth Three: Being trapped in a vehicle is a serious concern

The likelihood of a collision causing a malfunction in your belt’s ability to release is very slim. Restraints are designed to keep you secure during impact and release easily when the catch is pushed. However, if you’re concerned about the unlikely potential of being trapped, a belt cutter or emergency car tool can be used to cut the belt strap.

Furthermore, cars very rarely burst into flame or sink in lakes. Only about three percent of car fires result from collisions, while water accidents are even more rare. In short, the safety benefits of being restrained far outweigh the potential of becoming trapped.

Spread the Truth, Not the Myth

To help raise awareness of this issue and to help others get the correct information they need to ride safely, please share this blog with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, or through email. You never know if your simple click will help change a person’s mind (and future safety).

Steven M. Lee
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Houston Attorney at Law

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