While many advocacy campaigns focus on seat belt use for drivers and child-passengers, fewer remind adult passengers that they should also use seat belts. Injuries sustained in auto accidents have been proven to be more serious—and more likely fatal—when the victim is not restrained by a seat belt. Failure to use a seat belt can also impair a victim’s ability to access compensation for his or her losses.
Seat Belt Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), auto accidents are the leading cause of death in the United States for victims aged 1 to 54. The CDC also reports that seat belts are one of the most effective ways to prevent injuries and death in auto accidents. In 2015, a total of 22,441 passenger vehicle occupants died on the roads of the United States. More than half of these victims were not restrained at the time of the accident. This likely explains an estimate by the National Highway Traffic Administration that seat belt use saved 13,941 lives in 2015.
One factor that is highly related to seat belt use is the enforcement of state laws that require it. The South Dakota Department of Public Safety reports that the state had one of the lowest seat belt usage rates (a mere 26 percent) prior to the passage of seat belt legislation in 1994. Seat belt use in South Dakota is now higher than it was but still below the national average of 88 percent. In fact, one CDC study reported by Keloland found that South Dakota’s seat belt usage rate was one of the worst in the nation, at only 83 percent. The only state with a lower rate of seat belt use was New Hampshire (at 80.2 percent). By contrast, the state with the highest seat belt usage rate was California, coming in at almost 98 percent.
The Limitations of Seat Belt Use
The sad reality is that seat belts simply cannot save the lives of every accident victim in South Dakota. According to the Daily Republic, a family of three was killed when their Chevrolet Impala hit a patch of ice, crossed the highway centerline, and struck a semi-truck. All three victims were unable to be saved in spite of the fact that all were wearing seat belts. This is one of the instances in which seat belts have proven to be ineffective at preventing fatal injuries. But such cases should not cause drivers to lose faith in seat belts entirely. The fact remains that an accident victim has far better odds of surviving a crash if he or she is wearing a seat belt.
A lack of seat belt use also cannot excuse a negligent driver from liability. Even if a passenger’s injuries were exacerbated because he or she was not wearing a seat belt, the victim is still entitled to compensation. This can, however, make it more difficult to secure a fair settlement offer.
Our Sioux Falls auto accident attorneys can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.