Why Don't People Wear Seat Belts?

Natalie Josef
August 31, 2011

Where I grew up, in the South, it was pretty common for folks not to wear seat belts. As for myself, I can’t remember not wearing one, and as I grew up and began to notice more things about the world around me, I began to wonder why people didn’t. It seemed to me, at least in the South, that not wearing a seat belt was an act of rebellion, a sort of last-ditch, post Civil War revolt against the powers that be. Southerners are a proud people—myself included—but we can take that pride too far, and the seat belt thing seemed like just another example of misguided disobedience.

A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine was killed in a car accident. It was raining and he was speeding when he lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree. He was ejected from the car and died instantly. Later, we found out that he had not been wearing a seat belt—and that he probably would have lived if he had been. This was a young man, in his early 20s, and one theory I have heard is that younger people, especially boys, tend to think they’re invincible, and maybe that’s why they sometimes don’t wear seat belts.

Here are some other theories I have heard:

I have airbags / I am a safe driver
There are nearly 6.5 million car accidents each year, with around 2.9 million injuries and over 40,000 killed. In the U.S., every 13 minutes, someone dies in a car crash. The leading cause of death for Americans aged 1 to 30 is car accidents. In more than half of all car accident fatalities, the deceased were not wearing seat belts. These figures are from the past ten years, when seat belts were mandatory in all states. No matter how safe you think you are, or how much faith you put in airbags, car accidents happen and you are more likely to survive one if you have on your seat belt. It’s hard to argue with math. Plus, even though drunk driving fatalities have gone down, now that people are texting and talking on the phone while they drive, the roads are more dangerous than ever.

They are uncomfortable / they wrinkle my clothes
I would pick an uncomfortable seat belt and wrinkled clothes over a serious injury or death. Even though these excuses are common, they really don’t hold any weight. Once you wear seat belts, you don’t even notice them being there, and unwrinkled clothes are hardly more important than safety. Lap/shoulder seat belt combinations are the best. If the shoulder belt is uncomfortable, not wearing it or putting it under your arm can cause serious internal injuries because shoulder belts are designed to hold back the strongest part of your body. If you are overweight and feel like the belt restricts your movement, you can buy belt extenders.

I might get trapped in a burning car / they can hinder my escape
Some folks theorize that it might be best to be thrown clear of a car during a crash. The fact is, your chances of being killed are 25 times greater if you are thrown from a vehicle during a crash. The car could also roll on top of you. As for the theory that seat belts might trap you in a burning or submerged car, that scenario is highly unlikely. Less than one half of one percent of all crashes are caused by submersion in water or fire. Statistically, the safest place to be during an accident is in your car.

I don’t need one if it’s a short trip / I am not going fast
Here are the facts: 80% of crashes occur at speeds less than 40mph and 75% of all crashes occur within 25 miles of home. The reality is, the force of impact in a crash at 30mph is the same as falling head first from a three-story building. And since airbags can deploy at a rate of 200mph, they can actually harm you at low speeds. Sure, your car may stop if you hit something, but you will continue to keep moving forward until something stops you. If you are wearing a seat belt, you are less likely to collide with the airbag.

I just forget / I am too lazy
Many people who don’t wear seat belts insist that they “just forget” to put them on. That is very strange to me; the very first thing I do when I get into a car is put on my seat belt. Who wants to die of laziness or forgetfulness?

No one tells me what to do! 
Many people, not just Southerners, view their car as their castle, and they do not want to be told what to do in their castle. Many people resent government interference in their personal lives, and the not wearing a seat belt is an extension of this belief. But whether we like it or not, the government has to make and enforce laws to protect everyone. What if people didn’t stop at stop signs? Or didn’t drive on the right side of the street? It would be chaos. Is the the loss of freedom from wearing a seat belt a small sacrifice when you are looking at almost certain death?

Do you wear a seat belt? Why or why not? What about your friends and family? Do they wear them?

Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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