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The deadly consequences of going beltless


Seat belts have been commonplace in motor vehicles for several decades. Over time, they have evolved from waist-only to shoulder restraints. Growing knowledge of the events that occur during an auto accident has increased sophistication and effectiveness, minimizing injuries to drivers and passengers.

Yet, in spite of decades of campaigns and growing awareness, fatal crashes caused by unbelted drivers and passengers have increased. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that 2019 saw close to 50 percent of drivers and front passenger occupants losing their lives in crashes because they were not wearing seat belts.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed a 14 percent increase in unrestrained vehicle deaths from 2019 to 2020.

Do seat belt alarms help?

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards oversee the operation of systems that set off an alarm when an occupant is unbelted. Ironically, the effectiveness of this feature does not receive a great deal of attention due to a vast majority of drivers and passengers affixing their belts. The IIHS estimates that 1,500 deaths could be prevented with the persistent sounds deemed impossible to ignore.

Data from 2020 reveals that rear-seat belt is at 80 percent, 10 percent below those belted in the front seat (90.3 percent). Yet, the low number has not motivated regulators to mandate notifications that backseat passengers failed to affix their seatbelts. Only 30 percent of 2021 vehicles had what many see as a crucial feature to ensure safety.

Regardless of safety features and audible alerts, seat belt usage remains the choice of a motor vehicle’s occupants. Awareness campaigns are only as effective as those who listen and subsequently take the advice. While drivers can control their own cars, they do not have control over other vehicles sharing the road. A split-second accident can have serious, if not fatal, consequences, particularly if one or all remains unbuckled.