Seat Belts Save Lives
By: Thomas E. Parnell, Esquire
In the earliest days of motorized transportation fatal accidents happened. In 1899 there were 26 deaths from motorized transportation. Our crowded, fast-paced society has come a long way. In 2010 there were 32,885 fatalities, either driver or passengers, not including non-occupants. Take a moment and ponder how many lives and how many families were devastated by the loss of a family member, friend or loved one.
It is not a secret that careful and attentive driving is one of the most effective weapons in ensuring safe travel. It is also well known that the common seat belt is one of the most effective tools in dealing with the danger associated with automobile travel on our crowded roads and highways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by 50%. NHTSA also calculates that from 2004 to 2008, seat belt usage saved approximately 75,000 lives. That is an incredible number. The statistics are amazing. In 2007 42% of the fatalities in automobiles were unbelted. A 2009 NHTSA study found that 1,600 lives could be saved annually and 22,000 injuries prevented if seat belt usage rose to 90% in each of the 50 States.
In 2008 NHTSA concluded that seat belt usage was at a mere 69%. Currently seat belt usage, despite laws in 49 States, is only at 88%. This number does seem fairly high and the percentage of seat belt compliance seems to increase with each year so the public is getting the message. Unfortunately, seat belt usage is lowest in young adult and teen drivers. This number should be higher with all of the emphasis on seat belt usage from Public Service campaigns and Driver’s Education programs, but it is not.
We’ve all heard people say, seat belts are uncomfortable or I heard that in a crash a seat belt can keep you trapped in the vehicle and can cause additional injury. Well here is the answer to those folks; they are straight up wrong. The numbers do not lie. The statistics speak for themselves and they speak loudly and clearly, they save lives and minimize injuries. Seat belts, over the test of time, have proven unequivocally that they save lives, minimize injuries and protect the public from distracted and negligent drivers, everyday without fail.
Despite all the information and research, currently 12% of the population refuse or neglect to wear them. Florida is one of those states where evidence of seat belt usage can (and will) be presented to a Jury in your personal injury case. Florida has adopted a standard jury instruction that your Jury will hear in evaluating your claim for personal injury. In all accidents, law enforcement will memorialize on the Police Accident Report whether the driver and each of the occupants were wearing their seat belt at the time of the accident. I assure you that if you were not wearing your seat belt, the Jury will be provided with this information and it will not help your case at all!
Florida Statutes, Chapter 316.614 provides that it is unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle in the State of Florida unless that person is restrained by a safety belt. In the course of your personal injury trial, your Jury will be told this fact and they will also be instructed that if your injuries are the logical result of your not wearing your seat belt, your claim can be denied in its entirety or reduced by the amount which a jury can attribute to your failure to wear seat belts. Keep in mind that 88% of the people sitting in your jury box wear their seat belts and they will certainly give prudent thought and consideration to your failure to do so and will likely reduce your claim appropriately. Experiences in the Courtroom and at the negotiating table have taught us that this is a significant factor in automobile injury trials and verdicts.
Wear your seat belts. It’s the law and if that’s not enough for you, keep in mind that your life may come to depend on it. In the event that you survive an accident which is the result of the negligence of another driver, your Jury will be instructed to reduce your damages significantly if you were not wearing your seat belt. In this day and age, with all the information and research we have, it is nothing short of pure foolishness to refuse to buckle up. If you are lucky enough to remain accident free, then you should consider the monetary fines for non-compliance when you get pulled over for a routine traffic stop or violation. Seat belt tickets, like all traffic fines are not cheap. Click it or Ticket as they say!
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in the U.S. in 2010, the last year for which statistics are available. An additional 416,000 were estimated injured in distracted driving accidents. Overall, approximately 18 percent of all car accidents involving injuries in 2010 involved a distracted driver.