Seatbelts Save Lives: What the Statistics Show

If life teaches anything, it is that it is so unpredictable that the only control we can exercise consistently is self-control. No better object lesson is found in traffic, in which drivers are subject to the behavior of other drivers. Sadly, the thousands of other drivers are often given to inattention, emotional responses, misperceptions, and vehicular malfunction. Such cases can sometimes cause impact, collisions, and other forms of accident. While speed limits and laws can mitigate the risk, this hazard remains. However, proper restraint through the responsible use of seatbelts can keep us from suffering the worst results of traffic mishaps.

Without Seatbelts

How do we know that seatbelts make a significant difference in the safety of automobile drivers and their passengers? Comparing and contrasting is one way to know. For example, over 37,000 people — belted and unbelted — is the United States were killed in car accidents in 2017. Of that number, 17,452 were not wearing seatbelts at the time of impact. This is close to half of all who died, according to the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Among the surprises in these numbers is that most states have seatbelt laws enforcing usage. Over three-quarters of those fatalities who chose to go without restraint were ejected from the vehicle during a crash, dying of their injuries. On the other hand, only one percent of ejection victims were secured with seatbelts. It is difficult to discount the effect that safety belts have regarding he health and well-being of drivers and riders.

Wrong Ideas about Seat Belts

NHTSA reports that consistent seatbelt use reached 92 percent in the year 2023. The agency cautions drivers not to assume that air bags will be sufficient protection in the event of collision. Instead, these safety devices are designed to work in tandem with seat belts, not as a substitute. Without a seat belt, hard contact with an air bag can be dangerous in and of itself. An additional misconception relates to the back seat — seat belts are equally necessary in the rear seating areas. In fact, 2022 saw 60 percent of back seat passenger fatalities as unbuckled. Equally erroneous is the idea that old-fashioned lap belts are as safe as those that restrain from the shoulder to the lap. Of course, a lap belt is better than no seat belt at all. Yet even professional drivers know that the shoulder-and-lap belt holds the driver more securely in place. Fears of being trapped are overblown: only five percent of truck accidents, for example, involve fire or underwater submersion.

Why We Have Seatbelt Laws

Should people decide for themselves whether or not to wear a seat belt. Why are there state laws enforcing this? The statistics cited above provide some support to mandatory laws regarding seat belts. The laws fit into two broad categories:


  • Primary enforcement seat belt laws — where law enforcement officials can cite drivers whom they observe to be not wearing their seat belts.
  • Secondary enforcement laws — where police officers can only ticket drivers if they are pulled over for another violation.


Consequently, seat belt usage is nine percent higher in primary enforcement states, which constitute a majority. Meanwhile, 19 states maintain secondary enforcement laws only. Still, the numbers do not lie. Laws work albeit imperfectly. Preserving life and limb is not an abuse of power. While some may be annoyed by seat belt regulations, few who have lost a loved one in a car accident argue against such rules.

Car accident injuries and deaths are on the rise across the nation. In 2021, the city of San Francisco alone saw 27 fatal accidents. We all must take continue steps to protecting ourselves and our loved ones. Taking the time to buckle up can mean the difference between life and death.