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Why don't people wear their seat belts?

March 23, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
What's it going to take to get people to wear their seat belts?

In the last few years, I've read – and written – all too many stories about people who were thrown from their vehicles after a car accident and might would have survived if they'd been belted in. Today there was yet another story on the wire about a teenager who wasn't wearing her seat belt and died when she was thrown from her car. Wearing a seat belt will not always save you in an accident and it might not have saved the latest accident victim. A head on collision will probably cause serious injury or death regardless of whether drivers and passengers are wearing their seat belts. However, seat belts drastically reduce the risk of injury or death.

Over the last few months there's been an effective commercial running about a pair of siblings who drive to the store. The girl buckles up and her older brother refuses to fasten his seat belt. When their vehicle is struck, the unbelted boy is thrown into the little girl, who dies of head trauma when her head smashes into the passenger side window. The message is clear that an unbelted driver or passenger can cause harm to belted-in passengers. A car accident turns every unsecured object in the vehicle into an unguided missile.

I've been in at least a couple of accidents where I think wearing a seat belt saved me from getting hurt. A few years ago I was headed to Des Lacs when I hit a patch of ice and my car spun out. It spun completely around, twice, in front of an approaching semi before it hit the ditch, mercifully avoiding the semi. I had a seat belt on and wasn't hurt. I've been rear-ended a couple of times as well, once on the highway at highway speeds, and walked away with nothing but a sore neck.

I have never gotten into a car without first buckling my seat belt, even when I'm driving it from one end of a parking lot to the other. I do it automatically. If there are passengers in my car, I will not start the engine until everyone is buckled up. This is a rule that every parent should drum into their children. If a teenager is spotted driving without a seat belt on, he should lose his driving privileges automatically. Every teacher, every adult friend of the teenager's parents, should make a point of telling that teenager's parents if he has been spotted driving out of a school parking lot or away from a friend's house without a seat belt on. Telling on that kid could save his life. The state should also increase its fines for drivers and passengers who aren't wearing their seat belts. I am also very much in favor of raising the age for a teenager to get a driver's license and requiring the kid pass a behind the wheel course and have driving experience before he can have an unrestricted license even then. I have never thought a 14- or 15-year-old has any business with a driver's license, much less driving alone.

I never want to have to write another accident brief about someone who died because he was thrown from his vehicle.


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