Lack of Seat Belts Is Still a Leading Cause of Death in Car AccidentsWe cannot control the actions of others, especially when we are on the road. The only thing we can do is ensure that we follow the laws and take precautions for ourselves and our passengers. Of all those precautions, wearing a seat belt is the simplest one – and yet there are still those who refuse to do it.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that in 2019, 47% of all passenger vehicle occupants who died in car crashes were not wearing their seat belts. The 2020 data is not available yet, but per the Wall Street Journal, “the number of unbuckled vehicle occupants killed in crashes jumped an estimated 15% from 2019, NHTSA figures show.”

Those increases are happening here, too. According to data collated by the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, the number of fatal crashes and the number of unrestrained victims has increased every year:

  • In 2019, there were 461 fatalities; 185 victims were unrestrained.
  • In 2020, there were 485 fatalities; 228 victims were unrestrained
  • In 2021 so far, there have been 573 fatalities; 242 victims were unrestrained.

In Sevier County:

  • In 2019, there were 9,731 car crashes involving 152 unrestrained occupants; 18 of those crashes were fatal and as many as 1,215 resulted in injuries.
  • In 2020, there were 8,943 car crashes involving 83 unrestrained occupants; 19 of those crashes were fatal and as many as 998 resulted in injuries.
  • In 2021 so far, there have been 5,297 car crashes involving 83 unrestrained occupants; 5 have been fatal and as many as 581 resulted in injuries.

Based on their data, an improperly retrained or unrestrained driver is killed about every 3.5 hours, is 61x more likely to die in a collision, and 3x more likely to be injured in a collision.

Injuries associated with unrestrained drivers and passengers

While death is, of course, the worst possible outcome of an unrestrained car crash, you can sustain serious injuries if you don’t buckle up. Those injuries can include:

Not wearing a seat belt can result in ejection from the car, which increases a person’s risk of being hit by another vehicle, sustaining road rash, or breaking his or her neck. If the crash results in a rollover, the person could be crushed in the process.

What parents should know about child-specific injuries in car crashes

An adult body and a child’s body will react differently to the impact of a crash. According to Safe Ride 4 Kids, smaller children are more likely to sustain life-altering trauma from a crash where they are improperly restrained because their bones are not fully formed yet:

At birth, an infant’s skull is very flexible, so a relatively small impact can result in significant deformation of the skull and brain. The infant rib cage is also very soft and flexible. Therefore, even a minor impact to the chest can result in an injury where the chest wall is compressed onto the heart, lungs and some of the abdominal organs….

On the other hand, the use of improper restraints, such as an adult restraint system, may itself injure the child during a car accident. An infant’s joint hasn’t formed properly and the pelvis has not become stable and cannot withstand the forces from an adult restraint system. For a child between 4-6 years of age, if the adult belt is too high across the stomach, a serious internal injury could result in a crash, or the child could slide under the seat-belt.

For this reason, it is critical that you use the appropriate car seat or booster seat for your child’s height and weight. The NHTSA offers a free tool that allows you to enter your child’s birthday, height, and weight to determine which type of seat is best, information about different types of car seats and boosters, and car seat inspection locator.

What can be done to increase seat belt use in Tennessee?

There is a silver lining, and it is that most of us – about 90% of the country’s population – wear our seat belts, and the numbers in Sevier County appear to be lowers than the rest of the state. As a result, it can be hard to get worked up over such a small number of people… until one of those people is you, or someone you love.

The single best thing you can do to increase seat belt use is to model good behavior, and always buckle up yourself. Children who see adults using seat belts are more likely to use them, too. You can also refuse to move the car until everyone has put on their seatbelt. Technically, Tennessee law says that you cannot drive a car if passengers are not buckled in, so you can always cite the law as your “excuse.”

Until the country reaches 100% seat belt use, we much continue to do our part in encouraging good behavior as drivers and passengers, to reduce our risk of being critically or fatally injured in a crash. If you or a loved one does get hurt in a wreck, Delius & McKenzie, PLLC is here to help. Contact our injury lawyers in Sevierville by calling (865) 428-8780 or filling out our contact form. Proudly serving Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding Tennessee areas.