A recent study from CoPilot, a car navigation app development company, highlights the disparity between drivers who report wearing a seat belt and what they actually do behind the wheel. CoPilot examined reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual survey asking adults how often they use seatbelts.

These answers were then compared to the number of crashes in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates to examine the occupants in fatal motor vehicle crashes.

Results of the Study

woman buckling seat beltIn general, vehicular fatalities have gradually declined over the years, especially with seat belt campaigns ramping up since the 1980s. Yet, NHTSA statistics indicate that among motor vehicle fatalities, nearly half of all victims were not buckled up.

This differs from the CDC’s survey, in which just 6.3 percent of drivers reported not wearing a seat belt or using one consistently.

When assessing survey and crash results, researchers found that men are more likely to forego wearing a seat belt. Use also declines in rural areas compared to urban, metropolitan regions. Drivers on the West Coast are more likely to buckle up than those on the East Coast.

Although no Connecticut cities made the top results, Springfield and Worcester Massachusetts ranked high on the list of midsize metropolitan areas where drivers are less likely to wear a seat belt. For large-size metropolitan areas, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island were in the top 20.

As this study shows, some drivers are still resistant to buckling up – or only do sometimes.

Data Supporting Seat Belt Use

Seat belts have been a fixture in cars for decades now and for good reason. When an accident occurs, your car may physically stop but the momentum of the impact can propel the driver and passengers forward, unless something holds them back. Without the restraint a seat belt provides, occupants may hit the windshield, collide with other parts of the car or hit other passengers. Many of these scenarios can prove fatal or leave passengers with permanent, life-changing injuries.

The modern seat belt uses a three-point design that improves upon the sash and lap belts of decades past. While these designs do not fully keep a passenger in place, the three-point seat belt distributes the momentum across your chest, shoulders and pelvis, so you’re less likely to slip out during impact or experience spinal damage.

Based on NHTSA figures, 47 percent of motor vehicle accident fatality victims in 2017 were not restrained with a seat belt. Looking at crash statistics in total, seat belts further saved the lives of 14,955 individuals.

The decline in motor vehicle accidents as a whole can also be attributed to seat belt usage. Based on research from the CDC, 11 percent of all occupants buckled up in 1982; that increased to 85 percent by 2010.

When a seat belt is deployed, fatality risks for front-seat passengers decline by 45 percent and their risk of serious injury is cut in half. NHTSA data also indicates that passengers not wearing a seat belt are 30 times more likely to be ejected from the vehicle during a crash and 75 percent experience fatal injuries.

Additionally, the force from an airbag is enough to injure or even kill a passenger who isn’t wearing a seat belt. In this scenario, momentum throws the passenger into the airbag, which then deploys a potentially fatal degree of force.

Furthermore, using a seat belt in a pickup or other passenger truck declines the driver’s risk of injury by 60 percent and moderate-to-serious injuries by 65 percent.

However, wearing a seat belt correctly is key to saving lives. The seat belt should never be worn below the arm but instead, across the chest.

Why Certain Drivers Still Won’t Buckle Up

Despite these benefits and the legal consequences of not wearing a seat belt, there are several reasons why some drivers still refuse to wear one.


Seat belt laws are not enforced evenly across all states, with some considering them primary laws and others secondary. In states with primary enforcement laws, including Connecticut, drivers can be pulled over and ticketed specifically for not wearing a seat belt – or having a passenger remain unbuckled.

In states with secondary laws, the driver must be committing another crime like speeding before they can be pulled over. At that point, a law enforcement official will issue a ticket for the primary and secondary violations.

Reflecting how this disparity affects seat belt usage, the CDC has found that 9-percent more drivers buckle up in primary law states, compared to states with secondary laws.

Social Beliefs About Using One

In spite of statistics, NHTSA has found certain beliefs about seat belt usage persist, including:

  • In the event of fire or water, seat belts will prevent occupants from escaping the vehicle.
  • Seat belts are only needed if you’re driving fast. By contrast, the NHTSA has found that a significant portion of fatal crashes occur at speeds under 40 mph.
  • Seat belts can cause bodily harm. While this can be true, a passenger is far likelier to experience a fatal or life-changing injury without one, including traumatic brain injury, damage to the chest, neck, abdomen or spine, broken bones, internal bleeding, a collapsed lung or whiplash.
  • Seat belts are not needed for short distances. Proving this assumption false, NHTSA’s statistics show that most accidents occur within 25 miles of the driver’s home.

Studies have also found that passengers who don’t wear seat belts have a higher likelihood of hitting other occupants, causing them fatal or life-threatening injuries.

Trucks Are Safer to Drive In

It’s a common misconception that bigger vehicles offer greater protection. Many passengers assume that driving a truck or SUV makes them safer in a crash. The NHTSA has found that in such vehicles, front-seat occupants have a 60-percent greater fatal injury risk when they don’t put on a seat belt.

They Forget to Buckle Up

This issue can primarily affect older drivers, who remember a time when seat belt laws didn’t exist or weren’t enforced as strongly. Yet today, car manufacturers have added reminder features to reduce this occurrence: A car may beep or chime until the occupant buckles up or won’t start.

Seat Belts Aren’t Needed In the Back

The CDC’s survey found that while front-seat occupants report buckling up 96 percent of the time, back seat passengers only do so 89 percent of the time. While the risk may be less, it still exists and also poses a safety hazard to front-seat passengers. Not only do you risk flying through the windshield, but you could hit front-seat occupants who buckled up in the process.

Pregnant Passengers Shouldn’t Buckle

Another myth, some pregnant women believe that wearing a seat belt will harm her unborn baby in the event of a crash. Yet, this assumption can lead to life-threatening injuries, premature birth or death.

To protect themselves and their unborn child, a pregnant woman should follow NHTSA recommendations for seat belt placement.
Car accidents can permanently change the course of a victim’s life. Unfortunately, insurance companies attempt to settle a claim with an offer that won’t cover the cost of treatment, let alone missed work and reduced future earning opportunities. To get the compensation you deserve and resolve your claim, contact the lawyers at Trantolo & Trantolo today.