The Importance of Buckling Your Seatbelt

Last Updated on May 11, 2020

Buckling your seatbelt is a proven way to save lives. Seatbelts matter. They protect you and other people in your vehicle.

Of the 37,000 people killed in motor vehicle crashes every year, about 50% were not wearing seatbelts.

Over 90% of Americans wear a seatbelt while driving. Every year, seatbelts save an estimated 15,000 lives. Seatbelts protect you from being thrown from the vehicle during an accident. They prevent you from being thrown from your vehicle, and they protect other people in the vehicle from your body getting tossed around.

Many states now have “click it or ticket” campaigns. Police officers check for drivers wearing a seatbelt, then give fines to drivers who aren’t buckled up.

buckling your seatbelt

The History of Seatbelts

Many are surprised to learn the seatbelt was invented before the automobile. English engineer George Cayley invented the seatbelt in the mid-1800s for use on his glider.

In the mid-1900s, emergency room doctors noticed a high number of head and neck injuries from automobile accidents. They created various seatbelt designs to hold people in the vehicle during a car accident, preventing major trauma.

Unfortunately, early seatbelts often caused more harm than good. Many people were injured or killed by these seatbelts when they otherwise would have survived.

In the 1950s, designers began to vigorously explore vehicle safety. Vehicles were getting faster and more common, and safety features needed to keep up. Designers created retractable seatbelts, recessed steering wheels, roll cages, reinforced roofs, automatic locking doors, and airbags.

In 1955, Americans Roger W. Griswold and Hugh DeHaven developed a seatbelt breakthrough, creating the first three-point seat belt. The patented design was called the CIR-Griswold restraint.

In 1966, Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which required all cars in the United States to comply with certain safety standards.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, vehicle manufacturers added seatbelts to vehicles as standard safety features.

Seatbelts were not mandatory anywhere in the world until 1970, when the state of Victoria, Australia made seatbelt usage compulsory for drivers and front-seat passengers.

Today, most seat belt laws in America are left to states. However, the first seat belt law in America took effect on January 1, 1968. The federal government required all vehicles (except buses) to be equipped with seatbelts in all designated seating positions. Initially, seatbelt usage was voluntary. Today, seatbelts are mandatory in 49 states (all except New Hampshire).

The Consequences of Not Wearing a Seatbelt

You don’t have to do much research to determine seatbelts are effective. Seatbelts have a proven ability to save lives. A seatbelt can save the lives of you and your passengers. It protects your body from being thrown from the vehicle during an impact. It also prevents passengers from being thrown around inside the vehicle, which often causes further damage in an accident.

Here are some seatbelt safety facts from the United States Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • Of the 37,133 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, 47% were not wearing seatbelts
  • In 2017 alone, seatbelts saved an estimated 14,955 lives; an additional 2,549 people could have been saved if they were wearing seatbelts
  • Airbags are not enough to protect you; in fact, the force of an airbag can injure or kill you if not wearing a seatbelt
  • Wearing a seatbelt in the front seat of a passenger car reduces your risk of death by 45% and moderate to critical injury by 50%
  • 51% of male passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2017 were not wearing seatbelts
  • Seatbelts are even more crucial in light trucks, where they reduce the risk of death by 60% and moderate to critical injury by 65%

Being ejected from a vehicle during a car accident is almost always deadly. It’s rare to be ejected from a vehicle during an accident and survive. Even if you are not ejected from your vehicle, your body could be thrown around the car, causing damage to other passengers.

Other Seatbelt Statistics

Other seatbelt statistics published by the NHTSA further illustrate the importance of buckling up:

  • Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash
  • Airbags are designed to work with seatbelts – not replace them; if you don’t wear a seatbelt, you could be thrown too fast into a rapidly opening airbag, which could injure or even kill you
  • Buckling up during pregnancy is the single most effective action you can take to protect yourself and your unborn child in a crash
  • Wearing a seatbelt while driving immediately reduces your risk of dying by about 50%
  • Seatbelts prevent you from hitting the windshield, being ejected from the vehicle, smashing against the steering wheel, or hitting other objects and people in your vehicle

It’s Illegal to Not Buckle Up

There are safety reasons to wear a seatbelt. However, there are also plenty of legal reasons.

Every state in America requires you to wear a seatbelt at all times when driving (except for New Hampshire, which only requires children to wear seatbelts).

In these 49 states, you can be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to wear a seatbelt.

In some states, failing to wear a seatbelt is subject to primary enforcement. That means a police officer can pull you over for not wearing a seatbelt. The police officer does not need any other reason: the police officer simply needs to observe you (or someone in your vehicle) not wearing a seatbelt. Most states (35 out of 49 states with seatbelt laws) use primary enforcement.

15 of the 49 states with seatbelt laws use secondary enforcement for seatbelts. That means you need to commit a primary violation (like speeding or reckless driving) before being fined for a seatbelt violation.

In most states, the fine for not wearing a seatbelt ranges from $20 to $100.

Many states have steeper penalties if caught under 18. In North Dakota, for example, drivers under 18 caught without a seatbelt will have one point added to their license. In Texas, drivers under 17 must pay a $200 fine, compared to $50 for adults.

Only one state charges drivers higher rates for the second seatbelt offense. In California, drivers must pay $162 for the first offense and $190 for the second offense.

Seatbelt Usage by State

Countrywide, approximately 91% of drivers in the United States wear seatbelts. However, seatbelt usage varies widely between states.

According to the NHTSA, here are the top five best and worst states for seatbelt usage:

Highest Seatbelt Usage

  • Georgia (97.1%)
  • Hawaii (96.9%)
  • Oregon (96.8%)
  • California (96.2%)
  • Washington (94.8%)

Lowest Seatbelt Usage

  • New Hampshire (67.6%)
  • Massachusetts (73.7%)
  • South Dakota (74.8%)
  • Montana (78.0%)
  • Mississippi (78.8%)

Final Word

Seatbelts save lives. Safety experts and car manufacturers have repeatedly observed this effect in crash scenes and accident data.

Nationwide, 91% of drivers wear seatbelts. Yet every year, approximately 50% of traffic deaths are from people who were not wearing seatbelts.

Even if you ignore safety issues, seatbelt usage is a legal issue. Every state except New Hampshire has strict seatbelt laws, and you could be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to buckle up.

Whether it’s a safety issue or a legal issue, it’s important to wear a seatbelt when driving.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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