Why Should You Wear A Seatbelt?

Illustration of family buckling seatbeltsForget statistics, campaigns or pleas from car manufacturers. As the history of the seatbelt shows, the most effective way to get drivers and passengers to buckle up is to hit them where it hurts: in their wallets.

Although lap belts were offered in cars as early as the 1950s, they were snubbed by many until 1984, when New York became the first state to crack down on car safety. “The thing that started to get people to buckle up in large numbers was simply having state laws with a minimal fine of $25 or $50 for not buckling up,” says Mike Ciccone, senior director of crashworthiness evaluations at Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The importance of using seatbelts is no joke. No other quick daily habit—not even eating your veggies—has such life-changing benefits. “Lap and shoulder belts are about
50 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to front‐seat occupants in crashes of all kinds,” says Ciccone. The numbers are staggering: Safety belts saved 12,802 lives in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Compare that with the early 1980s, when just roughly 11 percent of front-seat passengers wore belts. So when did people buckle down on buckling up? Here, a look back at the invention, technology and laws behind seatbelts.

1885: The U.S. Patent Office issues the first seatbelt patent.

1949-50: Nash Motors Company offers lap belts in certain car models.

1959: Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invents the first three-point safety belt in Sweden by combining the lap belt and shoulder strap into one continuous belt that could be buckled with one hand. The invention’s open patent allows other manufacturers to adopt the game-changing design.

1968: The first federal law regarding seatbelts—called the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards—is passed, requiring all new cars sold in the U.S. to feature lap or shoulder belts in the front seats and lap belts in the back seats.

1984: New York passes the first “primary enforcement law,” in which a police officer can pull over and ticket a driver just for not wearing a seatbelt. Thirty-four states now have primary enforcement laws, while 15 states have secondary laws, which means drivers pulled over for another reason can receive a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. The fear of getting ticketed led to a quick jump in seatbelt usage for those states, which meant fewer deaths and injuries. People pay more attention to primary laws, and buckle up more. According to IIHS, if all states with secondary laws had primary laws instead, their passenger deaths would decrease by 7 percent.

1993: North Carolina’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which involved TV ads and billboards highlighting the cost of getting pulled over, dramatically increases seatbelt use from
65 percent to 81 percent. A decade later, the “Click It or Ticket” campaign goes national.

2015: States with primary enforcement laws report seatbelt usage at 91 percent, and states with secondary enforcement laws (or no law at all) report seatbelt usage at 79 percent.

Living in such a rapidly changing world, it’s easy to take innovations for granted, but remember that seatbelts were designed with one goal in mind: to protect you. Don’t forget to buckle up on your next ride—and that goes for everyone, especially kids and even pets.

You always buckle up … right? Good. GEICO offers discounts to good drivers. See how much you could save.

By Kara Cutruzzula

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  1. KC says

    PLease encourage people to be sure to secure their pets when traveling. Some tips and advice may be helpful and educational. Many are unaware of this safety hazard to their family pets.

  2. Karen Wellman says

    I feel much more confident wearing a seat belt and won’t start
    my engine without all passengers “buckled up”. I shudder when
    I see people not using their seat belts, especially children. To me,
    you’re just asking for trouble. I prefer to be safely secured in
    my seat and also use them when available on buses.

  3. Ted wentz says

    The use of seat-belts is a great idea for minimizing the risk of injury. I wear my all of the time. However, lawmakers do not have the authority to make such a law due to the fact they have only the authority that they receive from the people they represent. I don’t have authority to give to a lawmaker to make such a law. In other words, i don’t have the authority to make you wear a seat belt. On the other hand, if insurance companies want to make a requirement to have you wear your seatbelt to minimize the risk of injury because they are paying for the cost of medical care for the occupants. Sorry to be long winded.

  4. Lynne B says

    The best reason to wear a seat belt is that your AIRBAG is going to kill you if you’re not wearing a seatbelt. Great safety devices, eh? I believe that people should be allowed to choose for themselves whether or not to wear belts and motorcycle helmets. This is AMERICA and we have the right to be as stupid as we want!

  5. Sam B says

    I can’t believe how dumb people must be to make the argument that they should be allowed to decide for themselves if they want to wear a seat belt or not. Are you also advocating people should decide if they want to have Insurance??? If the only person hurt was the dumb person not wearing the seat belt I wouldn’t care but when people are injured or killed we are all impacted by the rates we pay for insurance so we’ll as the cost on society footing the bill for permanently disabled people and affected families. When folks don’t have the good common sense to do what could affect other innocent people that is when we should have government to make sure they do.