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Seat Belt Statistics and Safety Guide (2021)

The modern seat belt has saved millions of lives since its creation in 1959. Considered one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, the three-point seat belt was developed by a Volvo engineer to reduce traffic deaths from ejection. In an effort to save as many lives as possible, Volvo decided to share the patent with the world rather than charge expensive license fees. Below, we’ve gathered a list of seat belt statistics and facts, including a brief overview of its history and state laws in effect today.

We also discuss the gender gap in seat belt testing and how future car technology aims to enhance occupancy safety even further. Seat belt usage reduces the risk of injury or death in a crash by nearly 50%, making our roads safer for everyone. If you are involved in an auto accident, consider speaking with an experienced professional to learn about your rights.

Seat Belt Safety Facts

Woman buckling up before driving

Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective way to save lives and prevent injuries during a vehicle crash.

Nationwide, 9 in 10 front seat riders buckle up today. The statistics below dive into the seat belt’s effectiveness and how many lives are saved because of the safety invention.

Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective way to protect yourself during a vehicle crash.

NHTSA

Seat belts are the most effective and most cost effective public safety measure.

NHTSA

Father and son in a car

Three out of five people in car accidents could survive if they were wearing seat belts.

NHTSA

Roughly 15,000 lives are saved every year by seat belt usage.

NHTSA

The national average for seat belt use is at 90.7%.

NHTSA

Seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45% and cut the injury risk by 50% for drivers and front-seat passengers.

NHTSA

Occupants in pickup trucks are the least likely to wear seat belts.

NHTSA

Shattered windshield

More than 3 out of 4 people ejected from a vehicle die from their injuries.

CDC

In 2017, an estimated 14,955 lives were saved by seat belts.

NHTSA

Rear seat belts are less effective than front seat ones, being 25% effective at preventing fatal injuries compared to front seat belts 45% effectiveness.

Road Safety Observatory

A teen in a car not wearing a seatbelt and listening music

Teens and young adults have the lowest seat belt use rates.

CDC

Unrestrained deaths are more likely to happen at night.

Injury Facts

Nearly half of passengers killed in car accidents aren’t buckled up.

GHSA

People are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash if they’re not wearing a seat belt.

CDC

Traffic on a frozen, snowy road

People are more likely to wear a seat belt when driving through unclear weather conditions.

NHTSA

During a 40 year period from 1987 to 2017, frontal air bags saved 50,457 lives.

NHTSA

Passengers 21-34 are most likely to die if unrestrained during a vehicle crash.

Injury Facts

The History of Seat Belts

Seat belt

Seat belts are widely regarded as the single greatest traffic safety invention of all time.

While lap belts have been around since the 1800s, they weren’t effective or widespread until Nils Bohlin’s three-point safety belt invention in 1959.

The Volvo engineer set out and succeeded in designing a belt that keeps both the upper and lower body in place and is so simple to use that even a child could do it. Rather than charge expensive licensing fees for the patented technology, Volvo shared the creation with the world and saved over a million lives in 60 years. Here’s a closer look at the history of seat belts.

The first seat belt was created in the late 1800’s for air gliders.

Defensive Driving

Doctors began equipping their cars with lap belts in the 1930s.

ROSPA

The introduction of the airbag caused a decline in seat belt usage in the 1980s and 1990s.

History

Wisconsin was the first state to require seat belts in the front seat in 1961 and New York followed suit the same year.

AAA

Early seat belts used nylon webbing but today polyester is used due to its higher stiffness and lower extensibility.

Webbing Replacement

Volvo patented the modern day seat belt in 1959 and was the first automobile company to integrate seatbelts into their entire vehicle fleet.

Volvo

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 required seat belts to be installed on all new American vehicles from the 1968 model onwards.

History

New York City taxis

The first patented vehicular seat belt was invented to keep tourists safe in New York City taxis in 1885.

Second Chance Garage

In 2001, the U.S. federal government launched the Click it or Ticket campaign. This helped increase seat belt usage by 7% in 6 years.

NHTSA

History of seat belts timeline

Seat Belt Gender Bias

Although women get in fewer crashes than men, they’re more likely to die from sustained injuries.

Gendered crash dummies are partly to blame, as the 50th percentile man measurements are still predominantly used today in auto safety testing.

While female crash dummies were created in 2011, the design was based on the smallest 5% of women from the 1970s, meaning it’s not reflective of average women’s measurements today. Further, female crash dummies aren’t used in the driver seat. Read on for a closer look at how seat belts are tested and how gender bias leads men to be more protected.

Women are more likely to buckle up but still more likely to be injured in a car accident.

NHTSA

The female crash dummy used today is just a scaled down version of the male dummy and it still doesn’t ride in the driver’s seat.

Consumer Reports

Conventional seat belts put pregnant women at greater risk.

Stanford

A woman is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man in a car crash and 17% more likely to die.

NHTSA

In addition to women, obese and elderly people aren’t fairly represented in crash dummy models today.

Stanford

Crash dummies used today are based on the average American man from the 1970s and the smallest 5% of American women from the 1970s.

Consumer Reports

Still today, there are no crash dummies that represent the average female in the U.S.

Komo News

Females are more likely to suffer whiplash but vehicle seats designed to help with whiplash are optimized for males.

Consumer Reports

Volvo passed an initiative in 2019 demanding virtual models and physical dummies begin representing a greater variety of body types.

Volvo

Seat Belt Laws

Every U.S. state other than New Hampshire requires front-seat occupants to wear seat belts.

Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement to ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt, whereas secondary laws only allow the ticket to be issued if another traffic offense is also cited. Here’s a closer look at U.S. seat belt laws across states.

In Wyoming, the state rewards drivers for seat belt use by reducing the fines for other traffic violations by $10.

IIHS

Delaware’s seat belt law is a civil penalty.

GHSA

34 U.S. states have primary enforcement laws for seat belt use.

IIHS

Teenage drivers are 15% less likely to wear a seat belt in states with a secondary safety belt law.

NCBI

New Hampshire is the only state to not have a primary or secondary seat belt law for adults.

GHSA

Future Car Safety Upgrades

Advancements in technology are paving the way for smart safety features and connected cars. Here are some of the high-tech gadgets and upgrades that may be in your next vehicle, including a reimagined safety belt that could change how we buckle up forever.

Safety Blankets

The company who invented the modern day seatbelt may also be the first to replace it. Volvo unveiled plans for their self-driving cars that include a safety blanket to restrain passengers as they lounge.

This reimagination of the seat belt is a system of loosely attached straps that tighten and restrain passengers on sudden impact. In a fully autonomous vehicle, this would allow the rider to lay down and watch a movie or take a nap during the drive, while still being protected in the event of a crash.

External Airbags

When a car outfitted with smart sensors is alerted that a crash is imminent, external airbags will deploy to disperse the forces of impact. These airbags, which have been developed by ZF Friedrichshafen AG over the last 10 years, could reduce injury levels by 20-30%.

Biometric Features

Facial recognition technology and mobile fingerprint are just some of the ways biometric data will enhance future vehicle technology. Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving (R.E.A.D) can gather data on the physical and emotional state of occupants in real time and then optimizations for passenger comfort, such as changes to the interior, can be made instantaneously.

Shared Autonomous Vehicles

Self-driving cars are already in test pilot, and the rollout of 5G will make the technology safer and more reliable. While never having to fully operate a vehicle is one perk of autonomous cars, shared rides could shake up car ownership even more. Since vehicles go unused 80% of the time, self-driving technology paves the way for people to co-own cars.

Airless Tires

Tires that can’t go flat may be headed your way soon. These non-pneumatic tires will feature a sustainable and long-lasting design and render spare tires obsolete. The tire design will also reduce CO2 emissions by simplifying the structure of the tire.

Augmented Reality Infotainment Systems

Today, enhanced infotainment has caused an uptick in distracted driving. Yet AR-enabled displays have the potential to actually increase safety instead. 3D AR would employ sensor data to gather road conditions and surrounding vehicle information. AR can also enhance current safety features such as lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and automated cruise control.