Seatbelts are the most basic of all vehicle safety systems. Get in the car, pull the belt over your body, click it in, and you’re done. Easy, right? Right. But still people forget, or they don’t like that “constrained” feeling, or they oppose the law telling them what to do in their own car. Fair enough, though forgetting seems to be a stretch, since most new autos come with some sort of seatbelt reminder chime or warning light. Clearly they’re unaware of the fact that 55 percent of 2004’s highway fatality victims were not wearing seatbelts, and NHTSA’s estimation that 14,570 individuals were saved in 2002 simply by being buckled up.
That statistic is due in no small part to seatbelt laws in 22 states, where police can pull over a vehicle when the occupants aren’t wearing a seatbelt. In these states, the men and women in blue don’t need to justify their action with a faulty headlight or a failure-to-signal violation.
Advancements associated with seatbelts include pretensioners, load limiters, and three- and four-point harnesses. Upon impact, pretensioners tighten the seatbelt to remove slack that could allow for harmful body movement. After the impact, load limiters allow for a bit of give to lessen pressure on the occupant.
Three-point seatbelts, those that cover a passenger’s chest and lap, reduce front occupant fatality risk by 45 percent in passenger cars (compared to unbelted passengers), 44 percent for rear seat passengers, and 15 percent compared to rear seat passengers using a lap belt only. More importantly, for rear seat passengers using three-point belts rather than lap belts, abdominal injuries are cut by 52 percent and head injuries by 47 percent*.
Four-point seatbelts, which typically include two vertical straps covering an occupant’s chest and clicking into a lower lap belt, have been used in racing cars for years and are currently being tested by companies like Volvo for passenger car application. The idea is that the four-point belts will be better able to distribute crash forces while also keeping passengers firmly seated in the event of a rollover.
*Based on NHTSA data.