How Do Seat Belts Work? (And Do You Really Need to Wear One?)

June 20, 2017

seat belt safety tipsIn an era of super-high-tech safety technology, the most important element of car safety is super-low-tech. It’s not the backup camera or the automatic braking that works hardest to keep you safe; it’s the seat belt. There are plenty of seat belt statistics that show that these upcoming seat belt safety tips work in keeping people safe.

Seat belt safety tips

When a car crashes or stops suddenly, a seat belt prevents you from traveling forward at the speed the car was going. Instead, the belt distributes stopping force across your body and causes you to slow down — a “controlled deceleration,” if you want to get fancy. How does that happen? And why is it so important to wear a seat belt? We break down all the seat belt facts you need to know.

How do seatbelts work?

The three-point seat belt as we know it today was invented in 1959 by Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin. “Bohlin, a former aviation engineer at Saab who worked on airplane catapult seats, knew an effective belt must absorb force across the pelvis and chest yet be so easy to use even a child could buckle up,” Wired reported. Hence the simple, pull-out design.

One of the most important parts of a seat belt is a part you don’t see: the locking mechanism which prevents the belt from slipping in a crash. Some systems have a weighted pendulum that swings forward, and others have a lever that’s activated by centrifugal force. Either way, the system puts the brakes on the seatbelt spool to lock it in place.

In the 1970s, automakers began to introduce the seat belt reminder system: a flashing light and buzzer that went off when the driver failed to fasten the seat belt. A more recent update to seat belt safety is Mercedes-Benz’s Pre-Safe system, which automatically tightens belts when the car senses a crash may be imminent.

Seat belt statistics

  • More than half of teens (13-19 years) and adults aged 20-44 years who died in crashes in 2015 were not wearing their seat belts.
  • Seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.
  • Seat belts saved almost 14,000 lives in 2015.
  • 90.1 percent of Americans wear seat belts.
  • Seat belt use is lower among pickup truck drivers; just 80.8 percent wear them.
  • Young adults (age 18-24) are less likely to wear seat belts than older drivers.

We pulled seat belt statistics from NHTSA and CDC.

Why doesn’t everyone wear seat belts?

how do seatbelts workWhile seat belt use is rising — thanks in part to not wearing your seat belt being a misdemeanor in 49 states — nearly 10 percent of American drivers still don’t use them. Specifically, men, younger drivers and people who live in rural areas are less likely to wear them. If you look at the seat belt statistics, they say pretty clearly that if you don’t buckle up, you’re a lot more likely to die. So why wouldn’t you wear one?

Everyone has their reasons, of course. Common explanations include protesting government intrusion in the form of mandatory seatbelt laws; disliking the feeling of a belt across the chest; thinking (wrongly) that passengers don’t need to wear them; thinking (wrongly, again) that airbags will keep them safe; and believing that they drive better without the security a belt offers. These are all fallacies — again, the numbers don’t lie. But what about the big fear a lot of people have: getting trapped in the car after a crash?

The Michigan State Police have the best answer to this common phobia. Crashes involving fire or water are extremely rare, but surviving them requires you to remain conscious and in control. “The greatest danger is with the impact that precedes the fire or submersion in water,” police say. “If you’re not using a seat belt, it’s very likely that you will be knocked unconscious or severely injured. If you’re belted, it’s very likely you will be able to unbuckle yourself and get out of a potential fire or submerged car situation.”

Still freaked out? Here’s our final point in our list of seat belt safety tips: get a seat belt knife/car safety tool. We like the compact Exitool, a combo seat belt cutter, window breaker and LED light. And once you’ve gotten that, do yourself another favor and compare car insurance quotes. It only takes a few minutes to discover the best deals on insurance and pick the one that’s right for you.

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