Sometimes it feels like the same topics come up over and over again when it comes to automobile safety and car crashes. Sometimes that is understandable, such as with new or evolving developments in law and technology. But when it comes up over and over again with tested ways to keep a family safe, it can only leave you wondering why basic safety measures are not followed by drivers.
Such is the case with seat belt usage, as seat belts are not new or revolutionary, and are proven to save lives, but remain underused by drivers and passengers on our roads. The result is often an injury that is much more severe than it has to be.
Nation has Varying Seat Belt Laws
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has again issued a troubling report about seat belts and seat belt usage, which includes an interesting survey of state by state seat belt laws.
Only one state, New Hampshire, has no seat belt laws. Other states have seat belt laws, but they are not primary. That means that drivers can only be cited for not wearing a seatbelt if they are pulled over for a different offense—they ca not be pulled over or ticketed solely for not wearing the belt.
Going hand in hand with seat belts, and serving the same purpose, are child restraint seats. Numerous states have laws requiring their use with younger children, but differ in the ages when seats are required. Unlike seat belt laws, however, in most states child restraint seat laws are primary, meaning officers can stop and pull you over just for the failure to use restraint seats, even if you are not violating any other law.
Still, the Institute points out that in some states, details and loopholes in the law which have exceptions for ages, or where in the car the child is riding, may result in certain children not being protected by these laws at all.
The issue is a big one. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading cause of death of kids between the ages of 5 and 14 is from traffic accidents where the child is improperly restrained or not restrained at all.
Florida’s Laws Provide Some Protections
Florida’s seat belt law is primary, again, meaning that violators can be pulled over even if they are not breaking any other laws. All drivers must wear seat belts. All kids ages 6 and up must also be restrained with a seat belt.
All children up to the age of 3, must be restrained with a car seat that is a separate item from the car itself. For kids ages 4-5, a separate carrier can be used, but occupants can also use integrated car seats, or booster seats that allow the car’s seat belt to securely fasten the child. Infants must be facing backwards (rear-facing) until they both reach the age of one, and reach the weight of 20 pounds.
Kids in car seats should never be put in the front of any car that has passenger side air bags, but safety experts suggest that all kids up to the age of 12 should avoid sitting in seats subject to airbags. If possible, children should be restrained or seated in the middle of the back seat, which is considered to be the safest place in the car in the event there is a collision.
Although they provide some protections, Florida’s laws are not as strong as those in many other states, which require safety seats for kids as old as 8. Florida’s attempt to raise the age to 8 failed a few years ago, when the law was vetoed by then-governor Bush.
Use and Benefits of Safety Belts
Although it should not bear repeating, seat belts provide a vital service to ensuring the safety of a car’s occupants. Belts often prevent victims from being ejected from a vehicle during a crash, which is the most catastrophic source of injury in a major accident.
The belt also can protect your head from colliding with the interior of the vehicle, thus reducing the risk of traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. By spreading the impact of a crash throughout your entire body, seat belts also help reduce catastrophic injury to any one body part.
A major cause of injury is the body’s tendency to immediately go from a stopped position, to a moving one during an accident. The more violent that movement, the more dangerous. Seat belts slow down the body’s forward acceleration after a crash gradually and reduce the distance that the body travels inside the car before it stops moving.
Seat belts should go around an occupant’s hips or thigh area, but should never be around an occupants stomach. Straps that go across the body should never be under the arm, but should rest securely across a passenger’s shoulder, and between the breastbones.
Legal Risks in Not Using Seat Belts
The failure to use a seat belt could risk your right to recover damages if you are injured in an accident. Even if you have done nothing wrong, and another driver is negligent, a defense attorney can use the fact that you did not use a seat belt against you in court.
All drivers are presumed to have the obligation to do what they can to protect themselves and minimize injury. This is why Florida law allows a jury to reduce a victim’s recovery for injuries, if it believes that injuries would not have been sustained had the victim been wearing a seat belt.
Keeping your family safe in cars should be of primary concern. If you are injured in a car accident, contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case.