Just the Facts

Just the Facts – reasons to use seat belts

Grace Pierson

We have to face the facts: Driving or riding in an automobile is a risky proposition. Since it has become a necessity in our society, it might be helpful to examine whether it is any more risky now than it used to be? The answer to that depends on whether you are talking about the mechanics of driving like the vehicle and roadways or the human element (i.e., the driver). As I see it, the risks associated with the first have decreased, while the risks associated with the latter have increased. And technology has played a role in both of these trends.

Technology has been used to engineer out much of the risk that is beyond the driver’s control. For example, road and vehicle designs have improved and reduced the likelihood of collisions, as well as the chance for injury and the severity of injury. This has made the overall mechanics of driving safer. But driving is still risky so it must be the human element that is contributing to the majority of that risk. How is that happening? Well, America’s roadways are busier than ever before and drivers deal not only with more traffic, but more distractions. Technological advances in roadside advertising, cell phones and other devices have made it easier to do other things while driving. The demands on drivers’ attentions are at an all time high. It is possible, however, for each driver to control, to some extent, the degree of distraction. We also control the decisions we make on the road, which either reduce or increase the overall risk we are exposed to behind the wheel of a car. One of those decisions is wearing a seat belt.

It has been proven that wearing a seat belt reduces the possibility of injury or death. The choice to wear or not to wear a seat belt is a personal decision. That decision is a state ment of how we view the issue of seat belts and, ultimately, a statement of how we see ourselves. Everyone has a reason why they do or do not wear seat belts, even if they have not consciously thought about it. It has definitely been a controversial issue despite the overwhelming facts that support seat belt use. There is a major payoff in reduced driving risks for such a simple act, yet some are so adamant about not doing it. This intrigued me so I decided to examine some of the reasons people give for not buckling up. What I found behind those reasons had more to do with an attitude than actual facts. To be honest, I could relate to the thinking behind each one of the reasons I explored. Maybe you can identify as well. The hard part is ignoring the mountain of evidence and facts that stand in opposition to the thinking these attitudes promote.


Don’t you just hate it when you put on your seat belt and it wrinkles your clothes? I certainly do. By the time I get to work, I have a diagonal wrinkle on my clothes. By messing up our clothes, seat belts tarnish the image we are trying to project. You just cannot look neat with wrinkled clothes. Shoulder harnesses also do a number on that macho look. They can make you look “weak.” To the people who see you from the front of your car, the chest strap helps to make you look like one of those prohibited signs that implies, “No Cool Dudes.” But do you think looking neat or macho will really be at the top of the list when paramedics and the police are trying to pry your crumbled body out of a mangled wreck?

SEAT BELTS ARE SO RESTRICTIVE: If you are the driver, you cannot even reach over to the glove box to retrieve something without the seat belt “catching” and pulling you back. That’s not very convenient and everyone knows you can still control the car while performing that maneuver anyway. Well, coffins are a lot more restrictive than a 2- to 3-inch belt.


In many states, wearing seat belts is the law for all vehicle occupants. Not wearing one brings out our rebellious natures and, besides, it is such a minor law, what harm can there be in breaking it? In an older vehicle, you can ride around to your heart’s delight by just attaching that restrictive shoulder harness. The highway patrol and other law enforcement officers will never know your lap belt is not hooked up. In newer vehicles you can do the same with the passive restraint system. The only way they will know for sure that you were not wearing a seat belt is when they are covering your broken, bloody body with the green tarp they carry in the trunks of their patrol vehicles.

TIME IS MONEY: Putting on a seat belt is too time consuming. When we get into a car, we want to get the show on the road. There are a lot of things to do as we put the car in gear: turning on the tunes, adjusting the mirrors and windows, lighting a cigarette or dialing that cell phone. Who has time to mess around with a seat belt? Adding that to our lists could cost us a green light at the first traffic signal. Well, here’s a news flash: you have a 90% chance that light is going to be red anyway. People who do not take the time to put on a seat belt are really saving other people some time. You see, at the accident scene that might one day happen, the officer in charge will tell the ambulance driver not to hurry.

I’M A GOOD DRIVER: Good drivers should not have to wear seat belts because they are rarely involved in accidents. Well, Webster’s defines an accident as “an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured…” Therefore, it stands to reason that being a good or bad driver is not necessarily a relevant factor. Expecting the unexpected is. That means every time we climb into our vehicle we should anticipate and be prepared that we might not make it to our destination in the same condition we are starting in. A seat belt will help improve our odds whether we are a good driver or not.


Some experts and proponents of not wearing seat belts say the major reason to remain unbuckled is to ensure that one is thrown clear of an accident should one occur. While that might sound like the way to go on the surface, take a couple of seconds to think about it. Unless you are in a convertible, there are a few things that you go through to be thrown clear … like the windshield for example! This is where a review of some of the basic laws of physics would be helpful. There are two collisions that occur in every accident: the “vehicle” collision and the “human” collision.

If you are involved in a head-on collision and your vehicle comes to a dead stop, you will remain at the same speed your vehicle was traveling until slowed by external forces. Those external forces include, but are not limited to: the steering wheel, the dashboard, the windshield or the pavement. Here is a breakdown of how this works in the first second after a car going 55 miles per hour hits a solid object:

0.10 second: The front bumper and grill collapse.

0.20 second: The hood starts crumbling, rising and striking the windshield as the spinning rear wheels lift from the ground. Simultaneously, fenders begin wrapping themselves around the solid object. Although the car’s frame has been halted, the rest of the car is still going 55 miles per hour. Instinct causes the driver to stiffen his legs against the crash and they snap at the knee joint.

0.30 second: The steering wheel starts to disintegrate and the steering column aims for the driver’s chest.

0.40 second: Two feet of the cab’s front end are wrecked, while the rear end is still moving at 35 miles per hour. The driver’s body is still traveling at 55 miles per hour.

0.50 second: The driver is impaled on the steering column and blood rushes into his lungs.

0.60 second: The impact has built up to the point that the driver’s feet are ripped out of tightly laced shoes. The brake pedal breaks off. The car frame buckles in the middle. The driver’s head smashes into the windshield as the rear wheels, still spinning, fall back to earth.

0.70 second: Hinges rip loose, doors fly open and the seats break free, striking the driver from behind. The seat striking the driver does not bother him because he is already dead.

The last three-tenths of the second mean nothing to the driver.

If your vehicle leaves the road, begins to roll and, by some miracle, you are thrown out of an open door, the law of physics still apply. You will continue to go in the same direction as your vehicle until the point at which you are usually reunited with it. It is at that instant that you will become intimately familiar with what a 4,000-pound car can do to 170 pounds of flesh and bone.

IT’S MY RIGHT! AH HA! The real reason not to wear seat belts is honor, courage and the American way. It is our inalienable right to do stupid things and risk our lives. If we want to jump off the roof and land on a picket fence, it is our right to do so. If we want to give an obscene gesture to a car full of people stopped at a traffic light, it is our right to do so. If we want to risk our own life and those of the ones we love by not buckling up, it is our right to do so. When I really think about it, it does take real courage and guts to get behind the wheel without fastening your seat belt. As you drive off, you are literally staring serious injury and even death in the face without an ounce of protection. Yes, that one does take real courage.

We control very few things in this life. I trust I have clarified the flawed thinking behind some of the many reasons we give for not taking control of our seat belts. It is my hope that each of you will pause to reflect on which one of these reasons might stand between you and “just the facts.”

COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Department of the Air Force

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group