Imagine running faster than you've ever run before -- straight into a wall. It would be difficult to stop yourself from being injured. Now imagine this happening while your car is traveling just 10 or 15 miles per hour. Even if the car stops as it hits the wall, your body will continue to move until the steering wheel, dashboard, windshield or seat belt stops you. If you're traveling at 30 miles per hour, your body would feel the same impact as if you fell from the top of a three-story building. About 33,000 people die each year in car accidents, which is the leading cause of death for people under age 35, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Seat belts could have prevented death in half of these cases, as NHTSA data shows that 53 percent of vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2009 weren’t wearing a seat belt. Yet drivers continue to give the same excuses for not buckling up.
I'm afraid of getting stuck in a crashed car.
In action movies and popular TV shows, characters sometimes are unable to unbuckle and free themselves when trapped in cars that are on fire or have crashed into a lake. However, experts say this is highly unlikely to happen. "This is a big myth that we're sold in media," says Alison Kirk, community relations officer for the Delaware Office of Highway Safety. "There's very little chance that a seat belt would become stuck in that way." Fewer than 1 percent of car crashes result in submersion into water, adds Ann Whitehead, safety program manager for the Arkansas Highway Safety Office. "It's better to have your seat belt on in that situation so you'll be alive when you get to the water," she says. "In all cases, your seat belt keeps you in control and in the correct position in a vehicle.” In fact, the best place to be during an accident is in your vehicle. If you're thrown from a car, you're 25 times more likely to die. In 2008, seat belts saved more than 13,000 lives nationwide during crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From 2004 to 2008, seat belts saved more than 75,000 lives -- enough people to fill a large sports stadium. "It's very rare that seat belts can't be unlocked in any situation,” Whitehead says.
Among drivers who occasionally don't use seat belts, 77 percent say the belt is uncomfortable, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The most common complaint involves pressure or pain, such as skin and neck irritations. Some women say they feel choked by seat belts. "It's really easy to adjust your seat belt, but many drivers don't realize their options," Whitehead says. "In most cars, you can adjust them from the post. You can adjust the seat as well." Before you buy a new car, see if the seat belt is a good fit, Kirk says. You can ask your dealership or vehicle manufacturer for seat belt adjusters, which hold the belt in a slightly slackened position, and seat belt extenders for a roomier fit.
I'm a safe, careful driver.
While you might be a safe driver, that doesn't mean other drivers on the road are as careful as you. "A seat belt is the first line of defense against drivers who aren't as careful," Kirk says. Even if your light is green and you have the right of way, another driver could run the red light and crash into you. "You don't know who will be out there, driving carelessly or possibly driving impaired," Whitehead says. "Your seat belt is your best protection."
My parents never wore them.
Many young drivers grew up required by law to wear seat belts, but older drivers may still be part of the culture change that began embracing seat belt use in the 1960s and 1970s.
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"Our grandparents certainly didn't grow up with them, but we're seeing older adults comply with seat belt use because they're older and fragile," Whitehead says. "They understand that getting injured increases health risks."
I have an air bag. I don't need a seat belt.
Air bags increase the effectiveness of seat belts by 40 percent, studies show. Drivers who don't wear seat belts can be thrown into a frontal air bag that is opening, resulting in injuries or even death. Seat belts also don't protect against side impact air bags, experts say. "In addition, a seat belt stops you from being projected forward," Kirk says. "The air bag simply cushions that blow." Whitehead reminds drivers to buckle up children in the back seat. "You should never position a child in front of an air bag," she says. "Also remember that air bags were created to help seat belts. They work together to keep you safe."
I'm not driving far, and there’s rarely traffic on this road.
Among drivers who occasionally don't use seat belts, 59 percent say they were only driving a short distance, and 39 percent say they were in a rush, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey. "It only takes a second for a crash to happen, and this could mean a pedestrian or animal running into the road or going around a curve," Kirk says. "A seat belt is the only thing between you in the car and being (flung onto) the road." In addition, 80 percent of traffic deaths occur within 25 miles of home and while driving under 40 miles per hour. "Anytime you get in the car, you're taking a chance," Whitehead says. "Get into a habit of buckling up each time you get in the car so it becomes an automatic motion."