It’s no secret that seatbelts save lives, but they only work if you and your passengers make a habit of wearing them every time you get in the car. Many people understand just how important this is. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2021, 90.4% of adults regularly wear their seatbelts.
Unfortunately, teens are a different story. While data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the risk of vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16 to 19 than it is for any other age group, seatbelt use among teens is also lower than any other age group. In addition, in 2020, 52% of teens who died in traffic crashes were not wearing their seatbelts.
Still not convinced that wearing your seatbelt is the right thing to do? Let’s take a look at two important reasons why you absolutely need to buckle up.
1. It’s the Law
Forgetting to wear your seatbelt isn’t just a bad driving habit. Depending on where you live, there’s also a good chance that it’s against the law. States may have either primary or secondary seatbelt laws.
Primary Seatbelt Laws
Primary laws mean that the police may give drivers and passengers tickets for not wearing a seatbelt, even if they have not committed any other traffic violations. Currently, primary seatbelt laws exist in 34 states, plus Guam, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Secondary Seatbelt Laws
Secondary seatbelt laws state that police can only issue a ticket for failure to wear a seatbelt if they are also writing another traffic citation. There are currently 15 states that have secondary seatbelt laws for adult front seat occupants.
You're Responsible — Even for Passengers
If you’re driving, it’s important to remember you’re responsible for making sure your passenger buckles up too. Even if you’re wearing your seatbelt, you could be held responsible for paying both the ticket and any related court costs for an unbuckled passenger.
And although you’re unlikely to get points on your license for driving without a seatbelt, the infraction would likely still show up on your Motor Vehicle Record (MVR), which is maintained by your state’s transportation department. Your insurance company gets a copy of your MVR and may raise your rates when they see that you’re not taking simple steps to stay safe behind the wheel.
2. Seatbelts Keep You Safe
If the potential financial loss isn’t enough to convince you and your passengers to buckle up, then the injuries you can sustain if you get in an accident should.
Specifically, you might slam into the steering wheel, hit your head on the windshield, find yourself tossed around the interior, or otherwise lose control of the car. If the initial impact doesn’t result in serious injuries, losing control of a moving car could. Airbags aren’t able to provide enough protection alone. However, when you use your seatbelt correctly, airbag safety significantly increases.
Rear-seat Passenger Safety
So, what about passengers sitting in the rear seat? Given that not all states have laws requiring them to buckle up — besides children in a car or booster seat — the protection afforded by the rear compartment must be sufficient, right?
Absolutely not. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), backseat passengers who are unbuckled are eight times more likely to be seriously injured than if they were wearing their seatbelts. In addition, the force of a car accident can turn you into a “human missile,” creating a risk for everyone in the vehicle, including the driver. This can cause you to catapult into the front part of the vehicle, striking the upper body of the front-seat occupant in the back of the head and neck, sometimes leading to catastrophic results.
Get in the Habit
Practice safe driving habits by buckling up and requiring everyone in your car to do the same. If a passenger refuses to buckle up, hold your ground by not driving until they comply. If they push back, remind them that when operating a motor vehicle, you’re responsible for the conduct of everyone riding inside.