University of Alabama study: Crash data show seat belt use critical in saving lives

University of Alabama study: Crash data show seat belt use critical in saving lives
It only takes a few seconds to buckle up and greatly reduces the chances of death or serious injury in case of an automobile crash. (Getty Images)

Those involved in auto crashes while not wearing seat belts are 40 times more likely to die than those who buckle up, according to an analysis of state crash records from the past five years.

For the study, University of Alabama researchers at the Center for Advanced Public Safety examined crash records from 2013 through 2017 provided by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, or ALEA.

Numbers are staggering

Crash records showed about 1 of every 25 unrestrained motorists involved in a crash will suffer a fatal injury, but only about 1 of every 1,000 restrained motorists involved in a crash will have a fatal injury. This means that people are 40 times more likely to be killed without restraints.

One reason for this is those ejected from vehicles during crashes have 50 times the death rate as those who remain in the vehicles, and the probability of being thrown from vehicles increases about 337 times for those not restrained.

One out of every 25 unrestrained motorists involved in an automobile crash dies. For those who buckle up, the death rate is one in 1,000. It’s a simple action that makes a huge difference. (Getty Images)

“There is no doubt that seat belts are the most effective way of reducing the chances of getting killed in a crash,” said Dr. David Brown, a research associate at CAPS who led the study. “The chances of avoiding a crash altogether that involves injury over your driving lifetime is very low, so these are not just hypothetical or extreme examples. They are real life-and-death probabilities.”

Along with an increased chance of dying in a crash if unrestrained, there is an increased chance of serious injury. About 1 in 7 unrestrained motorists involved in a crash will suffer a serious injury, while only about 1 in 50 properly restrained motorists will have a serious injury.

The chances of serious injury for those unrestrained increase by more than a factor of 7. For those who buckle up, 9 of 10 are not injured during a crash.

Some other interesting factors include driver and passenger demographics and other correlations:

  • Those between ages 17 and 36 are unrestrained significantly more than average.
  • Males are about twice as likely to be unrestrained as females.
  • If all back-seat occupants were properly restrained, it would save an estimated 62 lives per year in Alabama.
  • Unrestrained drivers are about 2.5 times more likely to have their crashes in rural areas than in cities.

Other safety measures

Brown said drivers can do many things to prevent severe traffic crashes in addition to the use of seat belts. They include, in the order of ability to prevent fatal crashes:

  • People ages 17 to 36 are less likely to use seat belts than the average motorist. Don’t become a statistic. (Getty Images)

    Slowing down, as the probability of fatality doubles for every 10 mph increase.

  • Pulling over to a safe stopping point until distractions, such as cellphones, are resolved.
  • Never driving or riding with anyone who has had any alcohol or who has taken any mind-altering drugs, even if prescribed.
  • Anticipating and avoiding bad weather, especially when coupled with darkness.
  • Watching for deer if traveling just after dark, and slowing down.
  • Driving defensively to reduce risk by putting distance between vehicles, staying out of the blind spots of large trucks and letting aggressive drivers pass.

Click It or Ticket

Alabama is participating in the national “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign that began May 14 and runs through June 3. Each year around Memorial Day, law enforcement agencies across the country increase patrols as a reminder to drivers to buckle up.

In Alabama, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Law Enforcement and Traffic Safety Division provides grant funding that helps law enforcement officers, deputies and state troopers boost enforcement of state seat belt laws. The mobilization involves more than 1,500 safety checkpoints across the state’s 67 counties, according to ADECA.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

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