New York was the first state to implement a mandatory seat belt law back in 1984. Some 36 years later, 49 states and the District of Columbia mandate seat belt use. Most of us think nothing of it. But are seat belts effective? Do they do what they are supposed to do?
Common sense says they are. You can watch videos involving crash test dummies and see for yourself. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of hard and fast data proving the effectiveness of seat belts. Sure, plenty of experts have said that seat belts have saved hundreds of thousands of lives since Volvo patented the first three-point system back in the 1950s.
The problem is that there’s no way to quantify lives saved in any meaningful way. All we can do is look at statistics detailing traffic deaths before the three-point seat belt as opposed to those deaths after it was introduced. But that only looks at one aspect. Cars have become safer overall since then.
A study done in 1967 purported to show seat belts are effective. The study analyzed 28,000 car crashes involving front seat victims traveling at a variety of speeds. Among the 37,511 subjects studied, there were no deaths when front seat victims were secured by a three-point seat belt and vehicle speed was under 60 miles per hour. That seems pretty definitive.
Another study published in 1996 affirmed estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that increasing seat belt used to 90% by 2000 would prevent more than 5,500 fatalities and 132,700 injuries annually. It’s not clear where the NHTSA got those numbers from.
Seat belts seem to be effective. But there is no definitive, quantifiable proof. That means each of us has to reach a conclusion independently.