Seat Belt Statistics and Facts in 2020

Key insights + statistics

  • Wearing your seatbelt as a front-seat passenger can limit your chances of moderate to fatal injury by 50% and of dying by 45%. (NHTSA)
  • Wearing your seatbelt in a light truck limits your risk of critical injury by 60%. (AAA)
  • Nationally, most (90.1%) of Americans use seat belts. (CDC)
  • On average, 47% of people who die in car accidents weren’t wearing their seatbelts. (IIHS)
  • 15,000 lives are saved every year by wearing a seat belt. (NHTSA)

 

How many people die from not wearing seat belts?

Unfortunately, the most recent accident fatality data is from 2017. In that year alone, of the 37,133 who died in car accidents, 17,452 people were not wearing a seatbelt. With a mortality rate of 47% for those who choose not to, wearing a seatbelt is absolutely critical to driver and passenger safety. Many view this safety feature as optional — not all fifty states require the practice as law — but the statistics below are key indicators of just how important it is to wear your seatbelt every time you get in the car.

Compiled from national reports and statistics, such as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the National Safety Council, and The Zebra’s own internal data, these statistics are a comprehensive look at what seat belt safety looks like and why we should all buckle up.

 

Table of contents

  1. Seat belt statistics in 2020
  2. Seat belt statistics by year
  3. Seat belt fatalities and death statistics
  4. Lap belt injury statistics
  5. Seat belt use by demographic
  6. Seatbelt laws
  7. How wearing a seatbelt affects your insurance
  8. FAQs about seat belts

 

Seat belt statistics in 2020

As the nation's leading insurance comparison site, The Zebra is primarily focused and concerned about the safety of American drivers. So in 2020, The Zebra conducted a survey of 1,500 Americans to better understand national opinions around seatbelt usage and preference.

  • 91% of respondents claim they buckle up every time they drive.
  • 9.2% of respondents don’t wear seat belts when they are only going a short distance.
  • 20.2% of people incorrectly believe that seat belts are not legal in all states.
  • Only 6.7% of respondents think that it’s safe to wear a seat belt behind your back.
  • A seat belt adjuster keeps the belt tight and away from irritating your neck. 7.8% of people have had to wear one.

The National Highway Safety Administration suggests that the minimum weight for a child's booster seat is 40 pounds. While the majority of respondents are aware of this weight limit, many others are not as sure. The below graphic is a breakdown of these misconceptions. 

correct weight for booster seat

 

Seat belt statistics by year

According to the National Safety Council, National Highway Safety Administration:

  • Since 1975, estimates show that seat belts have saved 374,276 lives.
  • In 2000, only 70.7% of front-seat passengers wore their seat belts, and 50.9% of occupant deaths were unrestrained.
  • The NHTSA determined that seat belts saved 13,941 lives in 2015.
  • In 2016, 48% of people who died in a car crash were not wearing a seatbelt.
  • In 2017, 47% of people who died in a motor vehicle accident were not wearing a seatbelt.
  • In 2017 alone, seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives in the United States.
  • In 2018, 89.6% of drivers and passengers in the United States used seat belts, which saved roughly 15,000 lives.
  • Data shows an almost 91% national use rate for 2019.

 

What happens when you don’t buckle up

According to teens driving source, Naval Safety Center, VirtualDrive, NHTSA:

  • The simple act of buckling up can prevent nearly 50% of all automobile deaths.
  • More than 75% of people who are ejected during a fatal crash die from their critical injuries
  • Only 1% of passengers who were wearing a seat belt were ejected from a car during a crash.
  • 22% of children who die in motor vehicle crashes within the age group 0 to 4 are unrestrained, while 24% of deaths among adults 75 and older are unrestrained. This compares sharply with the 25 to 34 age group, which experiences 60% unrestrained deaths.


Lap belt injury statistics

According to CrashStats and the National library of medicine:

  • A seat belt as a front-seat passenger car occupant can limit moderate to critical injuries by 50%.
  • Airbags provide added protection but are not a substitute for seat belts. Airbags plus seat belts provide the greatest protection for adults.
  • Research has found that lap belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45% and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent.
  • An IIHS study revealed that 25% of those who didn’t buckle up did so because they believe that the back seat is safer than the front seat.
  • A 2013 study found that drivers are about twice as likely to be fatally injured in a crash if the left rear passenger was unrestrained.

 

Seat belt use by demographic

According to a report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality:

  • 6.1% of 19-to-21-year-olds and 6.7% of 22-to-29-year-olds had the highest rates of seat belt non-use.
  • Males were about three times as likely to not (or seldom) use seat belts as females within both the 19-to-21 and 22-to-29 age groups.
  • 6.9% of those who live in poor/near-poor areas were more likely to not (or seldom) use seat belts than those in middle/high-income areas (5%).
  • People covered by public auto insurance or with no insurance plan were 1.6 and 1.5 times as likely, respectively, to not (or seldom) use seat belts as those with private health insurance coverage.
  • Those living in rural areas were more than twice as likely to not (or seldom) use seat belts as those in large urban areas.


Seatbelt laws

Primary enforcement seat belt laws allow law enforcement officers to stop vehicles if a driver or passenger is not wearing a seat belt. Secondary enforcement seat belt laws require law enforcement officers to have some other reason for stopping a vehicle before citing a driver or passenger for not using a seat belt.

  • Observed seat belt use in 2019 was 92% in states with primary enforcement laws but only 86% in states with secondary enforcement laws or no seat belt laws.
  • As of September 2020, 31 states did not have a primary enforcement law covering all seating positions.
  • 35 states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws and 14 states have secondary laws requiring adult front-seat occupants to use seat belts.

 

How wearing a seat belt can affect your car insurance

While not as costly as other violations, getting caught without your seat belt can increase your rates by 5.8%. As illustrated above, the risk of dying in a car crash is much higher if you aren’t wearing a seatbelt and while many of us know not to drink and drive, this kind of risky driving can lead to similar disastrous results.

seat belt violations

 

FAQs about seat belts

Q: Do seat belts really save lives?

A: At the end of the day, research and data have shown that seat belts really do make the difference between life and death. According to the NHTSA, among drivers and front-seat passengers, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45% and cut the risk of serious injury by 50%.

Q: How deaths do seat belts cause?

Despite the common concern that a seatbelt might trap you in your car in the event of a car crash, seat belts are more likely to save your life by preventing you from hitting your head and getting knocked unconscious.

Q: How effective is the seat belt?

According to Edgar Synder, “statistics show that seat belts save lives. When used correctly, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45%, and risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%.”

A: How many lives do seatbelts save?

The NHTSA claims that in 2016, seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives. But nearly 2,500 more lives would have been saved if everyone had buckled up.

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Sources

 

Methodology

This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in 2020. 

Copyright © 2021 InsuranceZebra, Inc. All rights reserved. For inquiries regarding this content, please contact our team at statistics@thezebra.com.

Taylor Covington
Taylor CovingtonContent Researcher

An in-house qualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collects, organizes, and analyzes data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and beyond. Taylor's data studies have been cited by Yahoo Finance, The Atlantic, MSN, PolicyAdvice, Fox Business, The Simple Dollar, Hippo Insurance, and Bloomberg.

In her hometown of Austin, Texas, she can be found reading at Half Price Books or eating the world's greatest pizza at Via 313.