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Seat Belts: Friend or Foe?

Published: 2014-01-10 - Updated: 2021-08-30
Author: Thomas C. Weiss - Contact: Contact Details
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Synopsis: Article examines possible injuries and pros and cons of wearing a seat belt in a vehicle. A primary enforcement seat belt law means a police officer has the ability to pull a person over and issue them a ticket simply because someone in the vehicle is not wearing a seat belt. Adult seat belt use is the most effective way to save lives while reducing injuries in crashes. The fact remains that millions of adults still do not wear their seat belts when in a motor vehicle.

Main Digest

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 5 and 34 in America. Greater than 2.3 million adult drivers and passengers were treated in emergency rooms as the result of experiencing an injury in motor vehicle crashes in the year 2009 alone. Adult seat belt use is the most effective way to save lives while reducing injuries in crashes. The fact remains that millions of adults still do not wear their seat belts when in a motor vehicle.


Motor vehicle crashes are a major public health issue. Millions of adults receive treatment in emergency departments due to injuries from motor vehicle accidents each year. The lifetime costs of crash-related injuries and deaths among drivers and passengers were $70 billion in the year 2005. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 experience the highest crash-related injury rates of all adults.

The impact of seat belt use is very noticeable. Seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by around 50%. Air bags provide another layer of protection, although they are not a substitute for seat belts. Air bags in conjunction with seat belts provide the best protection for adults in motor vehicles.

Certain populations in America are least likely to wear a seat belt. Adults between the ages of 18 and 34 are less likely to wear seat belts than adults who are over the age of 35. Men are 10% less likely to wear seat belts than women are. Adults who live in rural areas are also 10% less likely to wear seat belts than adults who live in urban and suburban areas. Use of seat belts is lower in states with secondary enforcement of seat belt laws, or no seat belt laws, when compared to states with primary enforcement laws.

Primary enforcement seat belt laws make a huge difference in getting more people to use seat belts in motor vehicles. A primary enforcement seat belt law means a police officer has the ability to pull a person over and issue them a ticket simply because someone in the vehicle is not wearing a seat belt. A secondary enforcement law only permits a police officer to issue a ticket for a person who is not wearing a seat belt if the driver has been pulled over for another type of offense. In the year 2010, 19 states - where 1 out of 4 adults in America live, did not have a primary seat belt law.

Increasing Seat Belt Use Among Adults

Individuals, the government, as well as health professionals can all help to promote seat belt use among adults. What follows are examples of ways seat belt use can be increased.

Health care professional can remind people about the importance of using seat belts. They can encourage people to make wearing a seat belt a habit. Health care professionals can wear seat belts themselves while encouraging their colleagues to do the same thing.

Parents and caregivers can use a seat belt on every single trip despite its length, setting a good example. They can make sure children are properly buckled up in a seat belt, car seat, or booster seat depending upon which is appropriate. Parents and caregivers can place children in the middle of the back seat when possible; it is the safest spot in the vehicle - never seat a child in front of an air bag.

States can pass a primary enforcement seat belt law and make sure that seat belt laws apply to everyone who is in a motor vehicle, not simply the people in the front seat of the car. States can make sure that fines for not wearing a seat belt are high enough to be effective while ensuring that police and state troopers enforce all seat belt laws. States can also support seat belt laws with visible police presence and awareness campaigns while educating the public to make using seat belts a social norm.

Everyone in general can use a seat belt on every trip they take in a motor vehicle, no matter how short the trip may be. We can encourage everyone in the vehicle to use a seat belt, to include people in the back seat.

Seat Belt Injuries

Does this mean a seat belt guarantees your safety in a motor vehicle? Seat belts and airbags may help to prevent serious injuries if you are in a vehicle accident. Yet at the same time, these devices have the ability to cause physical issues themselves, according to doctors at MedStar Emergency Medical Services. Seat belt injuries might not always seem immediately obvious. There are symptoms to watch for after you have been in a vehicle accident that may indicate further damages from the seat belt.

The symptoms you need to watch out for after experiencing a vehicle accident related to potential seat belt injury include:

The following describes these symptoms in greater detail. It is important to watch for these signs if you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident.


Blood in a person's urine or stools might indicate internal damage caused by the pressure of the seat belt. A person's organs may become compressed and create bladder or urinary tract damage. Along with bleeding when voiding, people who have been in a vehicle accident should watch out for any changes in their bowel movements or urination. Endometriosis or colon obstruction can result from seat belt trauma causing constipation and bleeding according to doctors at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Vomiting or coughing up blood might indicate lung damage, stomach issues, or respiratory tract injury.


When a seat belt is pulled in a crash, muscle strains and bruising may happen in the area over which the seat belt was tugged. Skin discoloration and swelling is a common result and usually dissipates over a couple of days.

Breathing Difficulties:

When a person experiences breathing difficulties after involvement in a vehicle accident, they may have sustained damage to the organs in their chest from the pressure of the seat belt. Lung or heart damage might make breathing difficult.


Weakness in a person's legs may result from damage to their lower back, spinal nerves, or abdomen. The weakness might appear in one or both of the person's legs. Generalized feelings of weakness or dizziness may indicate symptoms of internal organ damage or shock.

Abdominal Pain:

When the seat belt crosses a person's kidneys and delivers a serious blunt force the first symptoms include abdominal pain and pain in the area between their ribs and hips. Low blood pressure and anemia may result from loss of blood. Left untreated, kidney damage might lead to delayed bleeding, infections, or even kidney failure.

Stiff Neck:

A person might become sore from the pressure of the seat belt after an accident. Lingering signs of more serious damage to the person's neck should be monitored. A whiplash injury occurs when a person's torso is held in place and their head snaps. Increasing pain or stiffness in the neck might result if a spinal injury happened due to whiplash.

Seat belts save lives when used appropriately. Unfortunately, this does not mean seat belt use is completely without its risks. It is important to use a seat belt whenever you are in a motor vehicle, but bear in mind that even if you do use a seat belt you are not eliminating the risk of becoming injured by the seat belt itself if you experience a motor vehicle accident.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

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Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2014, January 10). Seat Belts: Friend or Foe?. Disabled World. Retrieved September 27, 2023 from

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