Seat belts weren’t really necessary in early motor vehicles, with top speeds limited to around 12 miles per hour. That’s a good margin slower than Usain Bolt sprints the 100m, and we don’t see the Olympics mandating seat belts for their athletes.
By the 1950s, however, cars were a lot closer to the vehicles of today – and, due to increased power, more accidents were occurring. Car manufacturers began adding seat belts to their vehicles but were met by exceptional resistance from consumers.
Flash forward to today, and car manufacturers are legally required to add seat belts to their vehicles.
And drivers and passengers are legally obligated to wear them in every state – with one exception.
Seat belts save thousands of lives each year. And here are the seat belt safety statistics to prove it!
If you’re racing to get some answers, here are the need-to-know statistics about seat belt safety in 2022.
Key Insights of Seat Belt Safety
- In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that seat belts saved 14,955 lives.
- Between 1975 and 2017, seat belts saved a total of 374,196 lives.
- That means seat belts save over 40 lives every day.
- In 1980, just one in ten vehicle users were buckling up.
- By 2019, the numbers had flipped: now 90% of car users wear a seat belt.
- Seat belts reduce the chance of death in an accident by 45% for drivers and passengers in the front seats.
- And almost half of the 37,000 people who died in a fatal car accident in 2017 came from the small demographic who don’t wear seat belts.
You’re disproportionately more likely to be the victim of a fatal car accident without a seat belt. Buckle up!
Let’s take a look at all the seat belt safety statistics.
Seat Belt Safety Statistics 2021-2022
Since the 1980s, seat belt culture in the United States has seen an incredible turnaround: from just one in ten belting up in that decade to more than 90% strapping in today.
And there’s good reason for this surge in seat belt usage.
How Many Lives Do Seat Belts Save?
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) estimates that seat belts saved 14,955 lives in 2017 – seat belts are saving 40 lives, every day. In 2019, 47% of car crash fatalities weren’t wearing a seat belt – that’s over 10,000 deaths.
Seat belts are true lifesavers. Let’s take a deep dive into the safety statistics of seat belts to prove once and for all that this is a safety feature you can’t afford to ignore.
- In 2019, there were over 10,000 car crash fatalities who weren’t wearing a seatbelt.
- That constitutes 47% of total deaths.
- 90% of vehicle occupants wear a seatbelt: so 10% of non-seat belt wearers account for almost half of all vehicle deaths.
- In 2017, the NHTSA estimated that seat belts saved 14,955 lives.
- That means seat belts save over 40 lives every day.
- And that there were another 2,549 deaths that seat belts could have prevented.
- And between 1975 and 2017, seat belts saved a total of 374,196 lives.
- For cars, passengers in the front seat and drivers can reduce the risk of death by 45% by wearing a seat belt.
- And the risk of a serious injury is halved by wearing a seat belt.
- In light trucks, the risk of death is reduced by 60% by strapping in.
- When looking at night-time crashes, 55% of deaths were unrestrained.
How Many Lives Do Seat Belts Save Each Year?
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) estimates that in 2017 seatbelts saved 14,955 lives. It’s estimated that between 1975 and 2022 seat belts have saved the lives of over 435,000 people – more than 40 lives saved every day because people buckle up.
When Were Seat Belts Invented?
An early version of the three-point seat belt was first patented in the United States in 1955, but it wasn’t until Nils Bohlin, a Swedish engineer at Volvo, improved the design in 1959 that they became recognizable as what the seat belts we use today.
- Nash was the first car manufacturer to offer seat belts as a factory option, in 1949.
- When Ford introduced seat belts as an optional extra in 1955, just 2% of customers opted for this safety measure.
- The contemporary three-point seat belt familiar in today’s vehicles was patented the same year, in 1955.
- The seat belt was first built in as standard by Saab in 1958 and became commonplace in vehicles from then on.
- And by 1968, seat belts were required by law in all passenger vehicles except buses.
- Despite this, seat belts remained unpopular well into the 1980s when just one in ten drivers and passengers were buckling up.
- New York State introduced the first law mandating seat belt use in 1984.
- Since then, every state has introduced laws requiring adults and minors to wear seat belts in cars with the exception of New Hampshire.
How Many People Wear Seat Belts?
Across the United States, 90.3% of drivers and passengers choose to wear a seat belt, but in New Hampshire, where there is no law mandating the usage of a seat belt, just 70.7% of people wear a seat belt. Men are 10% less likely than women to buckle up.
Our ancestors always took a cavalier attitude to safety. From seat belts to smoking, life was cheap in the mid 20th century. When Ford introduced seat belts in 1955 just one in fifty buyers opted for this accessory, and by 1980 seat belt uptake was still at 10%.
Let’s take a look at seat belt usage from the sun belt to the rust belt, from their introduction to the modern-day.
- 2% of Ford customers opted to have seat belts fitted in 1955.
- And in 1980, just 10% of vehicle occupants were wearing seatbelts.
- By the year 2000, seat belt usage was at 70%.
- And by 2019, more than 90% of vehicle users are opting to use seat belts.
- But seat belt uptake fell marginally from 2019 to 2020: from 90.7% to 90.3%.
- Men are 10% less likely than women to buckle up.
- And young adults in the 18-34 bracket are 10% less likely to strap in than over 35s. With age comes wisdom.
- Teenagers are the least likely of any age group to be wearing a seat belt.
- A 2019 survey of high school students found that 43% admitted to skipping a seat belt in the past month.
- Seat belt use is a whopping 97.1% in the state of Hawaii.
- 26 states have a seat belt use rate of over 90%.
- In New Hampshire, the only state without a legal mandate for seat belt wearing, seat belt usage was at 70.7% in 2019 – the lowest in the country.
- That’s down from 76.4% in 2018: time for a change in the law?
- Seat belts are more popular in urban areas at 88.8%.
- In rural counties, self-reported seat belt use averages at 74.7%.
- Yet the crash rate on rural roads is almost twice that of urban areas.
Is It Illegal To Not Wear A Seat Belt?
Wearing a seat belt is required by law in 49 out of 50 states. New Hampshire is the only exception, where only under 18s are required to buckle up. Not wearing a seat belt is a primary offense in 35 states, meaning you can be pulled over by the police without any other evidence of an infraction.
It’s no coincidence that seat belt usage is at its lowest in New Hampshire – the only state without a legal requirement to buckle up. Seat belt laws introduced since the 1980s have saved thousands of lives.
- The first seat belt law in the United States wasn’t a state law – it was federal.
- This law mandated that car manufacturers include seat belts in their models. It came into effect on January 1, 1968.
- This law affected manufacturers only – consumers were not required to wear the seat belts.
- The first law requiring drivers and passengers to buckle up came from New York in 1984.
- California was the first state to make seat belt requirements a primary law, meaning officers can use it as the sole reason for pulling over a driver.
- As of 2021, seat belt law is a primary offense in 35 of the 50 states.
- And it’s a secondary offense in the remaining 15 states, meaning officers can not pull over drivers if this is the sole violation.
- In New York State, only under 16s are legally required to wear seat belts in the rear of the vehicle.
- Whereas in Georgia, all ages must wear a seat belt in the front, whilst seat belts are enforced in the rear for under 18s.
- Fines range from $10 (in Wisconsin) to $200 (for under 17s in Texas).
How Can We Encourage Seat Belt Use?
With thousands of deaths occurring each year due to a lack of seat belts, we must encourage seat belt use wherever we can.
Seat Belt Enforcement: As a driver, there’s a legal responsibility to ensure your passengers are buckling up, not to mention a responsibility to your passengers’ safety. Whenever you’re taking people for a ride, make seat belts a must in your vehicle.
Encouraging Teens: There are some demographics especially at risk. With almost half of all teens having skipped the seat belt in the last month, encouraging young people to buckle up can save a lot of lives. Talk to your kids about the benefits of seat belts, and help them develop strategies to resist peer pressure that stops them strapping in.
Expanding The Law: New Hampshire’s lack of seat belt laws results in considerably lower seat belt usage and in states with primary laws enabling officers to pull drivers over for seat belt offenses, seat belt usage is even higher. It’s clear that robust legislation around seat belts saves lives so lobby your elected officials.
Custom Fits: Seat belts aren’t a one-size-fits-all affair, although car manufacturers act like it. Customize your seat belts for comfort with adjusters and extenders – if your seat belts are comfortable, you and your passengers will be more likely to take advantage of them.
Burning Questions: The Seat Belts Safety FAQs
For some people, strapping in might be unconscious. But for others, seat belts aren’t at the top of our priority list. Here are the answers to your seat belt questions… the more you know.
How Many Lives Do Seatbelts Save?
The NHTSA has estimated that between 1975 and 2017, seat belts have saved around 374,196 lives, and seat belts continue to save around 40 lives every day in the United States.
Approximately half of car crash fatalities aren’t wearing seat belts. In 2019, 46.67% of car crash fatalities were unrestrained, compared to 53.33% who were wearing a seat belt.
But when you factor in that 90% of road users are wearing seatbelts, it reveals that skipping the seat belt makes you disproportionately more likely to be a fatality in a crash.
Research has shown that wearing a seat belt in a passenger car reduces your chance of death by around 45%. And in a light truck, it offers even greater protection at 60%. Seat belts save lives.
Should Pregnant Women Wear Seat Belts?
A common myth around seat belts is that pregnant women should forgo them to prevent pressure on the unborn infant. However, in pregnancy, you should wear a seat belt as much as anyone – if not more, as a belt could save two lives.
However, adjusting your seat belt and ensuring a correct fit are essential for pregnant women. A three-point seat belt is the safest, so skip the middle seat in the rear of the vehicle. Shotgun!
The shoulder belt should be draped across the collarbone and across the center of your chest. The lap belt should be affixed as low as possible, below the abdomen and the baby’s position.
Can Driving Without A Seat Belt Impact My Insurance?
The number one reason to wear a seat belt is to save lives. But wearing a seat belt can also save you a few dollars on your car insurance, were something to happen.
In many states, the offense of wearing a seat belt is deemed to be a “moving violation”. These convictions can impact your premiums by as much as 10%, and whilst a seat belt offense won’t cost you as much as a DUI, it can still hurt the bottom line.
What’s more, drivers who aren’t wearing a seat belt can sometimes be subjected to greater liability in pursuit of damages after an accident. Your insurance company may pay out less or not at all if you’re not strapped in.
There’s no doubt that seat belts are lifesavers.
And whilst seat belt usage has soared since the early 1980s, there are still thousands of preventable deaths each year. By the NHTSA’s estimate, in 2017 seat belts could have saved another 2,595 lives. If only people had been strapping in.
The culture around seat belts is changing slowly. From just 2% uptake in the 1950s, we’re now at over 90% seat belt use across the nation. People are waking up to the value of seat belts – and lives are being saved.
And yet, one in ten people traveling by car are still not buckling up. These people – predominantly under 35s and disproportionately men – are taking a great chance every trip.
And despite the increased risk of rural driving, those on country roads are less likely to be wearing a seat belt.
How can we turn this around? Well, it starts with education. Seat belt safety facts and statistics are the best way of improving seat belt use.
That’s us wrapping up and it’s you strapping in.
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- Seat belt laws in the United States. Retrieved from Wikipedia
- Seat Belts. Retrieved from NHTSA
- Seat Belts. Retrieved from Injury Facts
- Nationwide seat belt use rate in the United States from 2009 to 2020. Retrieved from Statista
- New Hampshire Moves Closer to Seatbelt Law for Drivers. Retrieved from Automotive Fleet