Are Seat Belt Laws Desirable?

by tylercook on November 15, 2013

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Three seconds: that’s about the average time it takes to put a seatbelt on. Despite this statistic, the percentage of people wearing seatbelts still isn’t 100, though use is on the rise. One reason for this uptick is seatbelt legislation.

Failure to Wear Seatbelts

Certain demographics are more accepting of seatbelts than others. According to National Public Radio, women are more likely to wear seatbelts than men and older people are more likely to wear one than younger generations. Commercial drivers, drunk drivers, and those in rural areas are also less likely to wear seat belts. Reasons for these behaviors vary. Some people don’t wear seatbelts while driving slow speeds, erroneously believing that low-impact accidents can’t cause physical damage. Others are ignorant in regards to car accident risk and engage in the “it won’t happen to me” line of thought. Some people even fear seatbelts, believing they will hinder a person’s ability to exit a submerged or inflamed car.

How Seatbelts Save Lives

No matter the reason for not wearing a seatbelt, the fact remains that they save lives. Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seatbelts are the most effective safety device for preventing death and injury. In fact, wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of car crash injuries by 50 percent. These, of course, aren’t the only stats that attest to their effectiveness: between 2004 and 2008, seatbelts saved over 75,000 lives, and of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2007, 42 percent were unbelted. Furthermore, if seatbelt use reaches 90 percent, it is estimated that 1,600 lives could be saved and 22,000 injuries prevented every year.

The Seatbelt Laws

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has stated that seatbelt laws and “click it or ticket” programs have dramatically increased the number of people who wear seatbelts.  This is especially true in states that enforce the law publically. It is also truer in states that have primary enforcement, which is a law that allows police to stop a vehicle and write a citation for the failure to wear a seatbelt. This is different from secondary enforcement, which mandates that police can only pull a person over for not wearing a seatbelt if that person is in violation of some other law as well (such as speeding, careless driving, or failure to use a turn signal).

As of right now, 31 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement laws while 18 states have secondary enforcement. In the states with primary enforcement, 88 percent of vehicle occupants wear seatbelts. In the states with secondary enforcement, only 75 percent of vehicle occupants wear seatbelts.

New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t have some form of seatbelt law.

The Argument Against Seatbelt Laws

It can’t be argued that seatbelts don’t save lives. What can be argued, however, is that seatbelt laws take away the freedom of choice for American citizens. In fact, per ABC News, it is this way of thinking that led the opposition against a New Hampshire law that would have finally passed seatbelt legislation. In keeping with the state’s motto of “Live Free or Die,” an editorial published in the New Hampshire Union Leader argued that accepting a seatbelt law would show that residents “have accepted the general premise that the state not only can, but must bully us for our own good.”

Yet, even with this argument, seatbelts — and the legislation that enforces them — continue to save tens of thousands of lives. When something saves that many lives, any opposing argument seems rather silly.


Gordon Newbury is a freelance legal blogger and writer who concentrates on Car Accidents, Traffic Law, Motoring Law, Criminal Law, DUIs, Civil Procedure and other complex areas.




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