States began enacting seat belt laws in 1985 to require drivers and passengers to buckle up. The laws were controversial at first, but seat belt use has been climbing ever since. As of 2012, the use of seat belts reached 86 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Nonetheless, the National Safety Council says some groups of people are less likely than others to wear seat belts: teenagers; commercial drivers; men in rural areas; pick-up truck drivers, people driving at night and drunk drivers.
Some people still view seat belt laws as infringements on their rights. Some believe air bags offer adequate protection. Others don’t like to wear seat belts for fear of wrinkling their clothing.
Sometimes drivers assume that if they do not travel far, the chances of crashing are slim. And some have so much confidence in their driving skills that they don’t think they will be involved in a crash.
In reality, failure to wear your seat belt may cost you your life if you are in a car crash. And if you survive with injuries, your insurance company may balk at compensating you if were not wearing your seat belt.
In some states, comparative negligence laws mean that victims who are partly at fault for their injuries receive less than full compensation. Under comparative negligence, compensatory damages are reduced by the percentage of fault that you bear for your injuries. Insurance companies may argue that your injuries would have been far less serious if you had been wearing a seat belt.
Laws vary across the country, however. Under Georgia law, if you are injured in an accident that is not your fault, the other driver’s insurer cannot blame you for not wearing a seat belt because that would unfairly let the at-fault driver off the hook. Georgia law does not consider juries to be qualified to determine to what extent the lack of a seat belt had to do with the severity of your injury.
Georgia is one of 32 states with standard, or primary, seat belt laws, according to AAA. This means a law enforcement officer may stop your vehicle and issue a citation if the officer observes an unbelted rider or passenger. Other states have secondary enforcement laws, meaning an officer may issue a seat belt citation only after stopping a vehicle for another offense.
Safety advocates say that standard seat belt laws are more effective at persuading people to buckle up. That’s important, because seat belts are the single most effective safety device for preventing deaths and injuries in a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Seat belt use reduces crash-related injuries and fatalities by 50 percent.
Making the roads safer is everyone’s business, from government to health care providers to individual drivers:
- State governments can pass strong seat belt laws and make sure those laws apply to everyone in the car, not just those in the front seat. States can also ensure enforcement of seat belt laws and educate the public.
- Health professionals can remind patients about the importance of seat belt use and encourage patients to make seat belt use a habit.
- Individuals can use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short, and encourage everyone in the car to buckle up, including back-seat passengers.
You may be a good driver with a clean record who has never experienced even a minor accident. But you can’t control other drivers. Statistics relating to drunk drivers and distracted drivers are devastating.
Failure to use a seatbelt contributes to more crash fatalities than any other traffic safety behavior.
If you don’t buckle up, you risk heavy fines, points against your insurance, and pain and suffering for you and your family if you are injured or killed in an accident.