Do I really need to wear a seatbelt? Buckle up!

Do I really need to wear a seatbelt? Buckle up!

When it comes to excuses, here’s the kind of story some drivers like to tell: “40 years ago, I was in a crash and if I had been wearing my seatbelt, I would have died! NOT wearing my seatbelt saved my life.” This statement, often heard by traffic enforcement officers, may be true. It may also be an attempt to get out of a ticket! Nonetheless, the topic of seatbelt usage often stirs an emotional response.


Many people feel wearing a seatbelt should be their choice.

After all, if they’re in a crash and get injured or killed, it only affects them, right? (Wrong!) Others will say, “It’s just a short trip so I don’t need to wear my seatbelt.” Some believe if they’re not traveling at highway speeds, they are unlikely to be injured in an unbelted crash. Still others believe the vehicle’s airbags alone will protect them. Despite these arguments, data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) annual National Occupant Protection Use Survey, compiled by the National Safety Council, shows: Seatbelts Save Lives!

Over the last 40 years, vehicle manufacturers, and regulators, have made significant safety improvements in the modern automobile. Vehicles are now designed to crumple around the occupant compartment, while keeping the compartment’s structural integrity and “softening” its interior with a supplemental restraint system. This “Supplemental Restraint System” can include front, side, and curtain airbags. (We’re probably still decades away from “Securefoam”, as seen in a crash scene from the 1993 classic, Demolition Man.)

In order for the “softer” occupant compartment to be effective in preventing injuries, the occupants actually need to be in the vehicle. However, just being in the vehicle is not sufficient. Proper seatbelt use restrains occupants in their seat, providing them the opportunity to take full advantage of the safety features of the airbags. Speaking of airbags, did you know frontal airbags can deploy at speeds up to 200 MPH? They go from being nicely tucked away in the steering wheel or dash to fully deployed (12-18 inches from where they started) in 20-30 milliseconds, or 2-3 hundredths of second for those opposed to the metric system. As noted previously, the airbags are supplemental to the primary restraint system: the lap and shoulder belt. Unrestrained occupants risk being hit by the full force of an exploding airbag, in addition to all the forces of the crash. Additionally, the airbags offer no protection to occupants who are ejected from the vehicle.


Required in Oregon:

Oregon, like 32 other states and the District of Columbia, requires all passengers, regardless of age or seating position, to use a seatbelt. All other states, except New Hampshire (The “Live Free or Die” State), require adult front-seat passengers to use seatbelts. Oregon, though, also requires the “proper” use of a seatbelt (ORS 811.210). This means the lap belt must be positioned low across the hips and the shoulder belt must be positioned properly over the collarbone – not under the arm. The importance of having the shoulder belt over the collarbone is that, during a front-end crash, it keeps the occupant’s head and torso from being thrown forward, minimizing the chance of spinal injuries.


Car Seats:

In Oregon, children must also be secured by a seatbelt or child safety seat (ORS 811.210). A child under two years of age, regardless of height or weight, must be secured with a child safety system in a rear-facing position. A child weighing 40 pounds or less, regardless of height, must be secured with a child safety system. A child who weighs more than 40 pounds, is four feet nine inches or shorter, and under the age of eight must be seated in a belt-positioning booster. Children eight and over are only required to use a seatbelt. However, parents or caregivers should confirm both the lap belt and the shoulder belt fit the child properly; the lap belt should be low across the hips (not across the stomach) and the shoulder belt should be on the collarbone, and not along the neck. If either the lap belt or shoulder belt does not fit correctly, the child should continue to use a belt-positioning booster until both belts fit properly.


The reality is that crashes happen when least expected.

Whether it’s a short trip, or a cross-country haul, there is always a risk of a crash. Technological advances in auto manufacturing and safety systems have made travel safer, but the risk of a crash is far from zero. When someone is seriously injured, or killed, in a crash – especially if that person chose not to properly use a seatbelt – it affects so many more than just that one person. It impacts his or her family and friends. It impacts the fire, medical, and police responders. It impacts everyone in the community.


The Beaverton Police Department is dedicated to your safety and encourages all vehicle occupants to “Buckle Up.”


For reference, visit these websites: