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One of the safest choices drivers and passengers can make is to buckle up. Many Americans understand the lifesaving value of the seat belt – the national use rate was at 90.3% in 2020. Seat belt use in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. Understand the potentially fatal consequences of not wearing a seat belt and learn what you can do to make sure you and your family are properly buckled up every time.
47%PERCENTAGE OF PASSENGER VEHICLE OCCUPANTS KILLED IN 2019 WHO WERE UNRESTRAINEDOf the 22,215 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2019, 47% were not wearing seat belts.
Seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seat belts, in 2017 alone.
The consequences of not wearing, or improperly wearing, a seat belt are clear:
SEAT BELT USE
1. Buckling up helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle, whereas not buckling up can result in being totally ejected from the vehicle in a crash, which is almost always deadly.
2. Air bags are not enough to protect you.
3. Improperly wearing a seat belt, such as putting the strap below your arm, puts you and your children at risk in a crash.
The benefits of buckling up are equally clear:
- If you buckle up in the front seat of a passenger car, you can reduce your risk of:
- Fatal injury by 45% (Kahane, 2015)
- Moderate to critical injury by 50%
- If you buckle up in a light truck, you can reduce your risk of:
- Fatal injury by 60% (Kahane, 2015)
- Moderate to critical injury by 65% (NHTSA, 1984)
Seat Belt Safety for Adults
Follow these seat belt tips and guidelines, including do’s and don’ts when you’re pregnant. Then have some fun quizzing yourself about the myths and facts of buckling up, and test your seat belt IQ.
The Top 5 Things You Should Know About Buckling Up
1. Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash
Seat belts are the best defense against impaired, aggressive, and distracted drivers. being completely ejected from a vehicle is almost always deadly.
2. Air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them
If you don’t wear your seat belt, you could be thrown into a rapidly opening frontal air bag. Such force could injure or even kill you. Learn about air bag safety.
3. Guidelines to buckle up safely
- Place the shoulder belt across the middle of your chest and away from your neck.
- The lap belt rests across your hips, not your stomach.
- NEVER put the shoulder belt behind your back or under an arm.
4. Fit matters
- Before you buy a new car, check to see that its seat belts are a good fit for you..
- If you need a roomier belt, contact your vehicle manufacturer to obtain seat belt extenders.
- If you drive an older or classic car with lap belts only, check with your vehicle manufacturer about how to retrofit your car with today’s safer lap/shoulder belts.
5. Seat belt safety for children and pregnant women
Find out when your child is ready to use an adult seat belt and learn about seat belt safety when you’re pregnant.
If You’re Pregnant: Seat Belt Recommendations for Drivers and Passengers
If you’re pregnant, make sure you know how to position your seat and wear a seat belt to maximize your safety and the safety of your unborn child. Read our recommendations below or view the instructional diagram version of our seat belt recommendations for pregnant drivers and passengers (PDF 497 KB).
I’m Pregnant. Should I Wear a Seat Belt?
- YES—doctors recommend it. Buckling up through all stages of your pregnancy is the single most effective action you can take to protect yourself and your unborn child in a crash.
- NEVER drive or ride in a car without buckling up first!
What’s the Right Way to Wear My Seat Belt?
- The shoulder belt away from your neck (but not off your shoulder) and across your chest (between your breasts), making sure to remove any slack from your seat belt with the lap belt secured below your belly so that it fits snugly across your hips and pelvic bone.
- NEVER place the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back.
- NEVER place lap belt over or on top of your belly.
Should I Adjust My Seat?
- YES—Adjust to a comfortable, upright position
- Keep as much distance as possible between your belly and the steering wheel
- Comfortably reach the steering wheel and pedals
- To minimize the gap between your shoulder and the seat belt, avoid reclining your seat more than necessary.
- Avoid letting your belly touch the steering wheel.
What if My Car or Truck Has Air Bags?
- You still need to wear your seat belt properly.
- Air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.
- Without a seat belt, you could crash into the vehicle interior, other passengers, or be ejected from the vehicle.
My Car Has an ON-OFF Air Bag Disabling Switch. Should I turn it off?
- NO—Doctors recommend that pregnant women wear seat belts and leave air bags turned on. Seat belts and air bags work together to provide the best protection for you and your unborn child.
What Should I Do if I am Involved in a Crash?
- Seek immediate medical attention, even if you think you are not injured, regardless of whether you’re the driver or passe
Improve Seat Belt Design & Comfort With Pressure Measurement
Seat belts are a very important safety device in a vehicle but ineffective if not worn properly. Studies of why people don’t use their seat belts highlight comfort as a critical factor.
The I-Scan™ pressure and force mapping system can assist with comfort design of seat belts.
The I-Scan pressure mapping system provides data in real-time and 2D or 3D pressure displays. With the help of our highly qualified sales and engineering support team, each system may be configured to meet your specific needs.
Seat Belt Safety for Tweens
When Is My Child Ready for an Adult Seat Belt?
The time to transition your child out of a booster seat and into a seat belt usually comes when the child is between 8 and 12 years old.
Fitting a Child Correctly in a Seat Belt
For your child to properly fit in a seat belt, he or she must be tall enough to sit without slouching and be able to:
- Keep his or her back against the vehicle seat;
- Keep his or her knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat; and
- Keep his or her feet flat on the floor.
- The lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach.
- Never let a child put the shoulder belt under an arm or behind the back because it could cause severe injuries in a crash.
- Keep your child in the back seat because it is safer there.
Remember, always check your child’s belt fit in every vehicle. A booster seat may be needed in some vehicles and not in others. If the seat belt does not fit properly yet, your child should continue to use a booster seat.
Modeling Seat Belt Safety
As a parent, you are your kids’ strongest influence when it comes to modeling safe driving practices, including buckling up every time you get in the car. Teach your family that safety is the responsibility of all passengers as well as the driver.
As your child grows, you may face challenges enforcing seat belt safety. Life as a parent is full of compromises, but seat belt safety is never up for negotiation. Follow these pointers and set the example of buckling up every time you get into the car.
NOTE: All children under 13 ride in the back seat for maximum safety.
Tips to Motivate Your Tweens to Buckle Up
Getting your kids to properly buckle up and stay buckled can be a battle of wills. There are several reasons why children 8 to 14 may forget or not want to wear their seat belts. For as many reasons as your kids can protest against wearing a seat belt, we’ve got tips to help you motivate them to buckle up.
Tweens are going through several developmental stages—social, cognitive and emotional—which offer helpful insights into what makes sense to them and what motivates them. Learn about the developmental stages and motivational messages get your kids to buckle up properly, the whole ride, every time.
55%OF 13 AND 14-YEAR-OLD PASSENGER VEHICLE OCCUPANTS KILLED IN CRASHES IN 2019 WERE KNOWN TO BE UNRESTRAINEDIt’s been a long time since your little ones transitioned from a booster seat into an adult seat belt, and now they’re teenagers. Think it’s time to relax? Think again. The majority of teens involved in fatal crashes aren’t wearing their seat belts.
Buckling up is not a one-time conversation—it’s ongoing. Set the example by always wearing your seat belt, and remind your teens buckling up is the law.
To learn more, visit our Teen Driving section.