One of the safest choices drivers and passengers can make is to buckle up. Many Americans understand the lifesaving value of the seat belt – the national use rate was at 90.4% in 2021. Seat belt use in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. Understand the potentially fatal consequences of not wearing a seat belt and learn what you can do to make sure you and your family are properly buckled up every time.
Of the 23,824 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2020, 51% were not wearing seat belts — a 4% increase from 2019.
Seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seat belts, in 2017 alone.
The consequences of not wearing, or improperly wearing, a seat belt are clear:
1. Buckling up helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle, whereas not buckling up can result in being totally ejected from the vehicle in a crash, which is almost always deadly.
2. Air bags are not enough to protect you; in fact, the force of an air bag can seriously injure or even kill you if you’re not buckled up.
3. Improperly wearing a seat belt, such as putting the strap below your arm, puts you and your children at risk in a crash.
The benefits of buckling up are equally clear:
1. Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash
Seat belts are the best defense against impaired, aggressive, and distracted drivers. Being buckled up during a crash helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle; being completely ejected from a vehicle is almost always deadly.
2. Air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them
If you don’t wear your seat belt, you could be thrown into a rapidly opening frontal air bag. Such force could injure or even kill you. Learn about air bag safety.
3. Guidelines to buckle up safely
4. Fit matters
5. Seat belt safety for children and pregnant women
Find out when your child is ready to use an adult seat belt and learn about seat belt safety when you’re pregnant.
(PDF of the top 5)
If you’re pregnant, make sure you know how to position your seat and wear a seat belt to maximize your safety and the safety of your unborn child. Read our recommendations below or view the instructional diagram version of our seat belt recommendations for pregnant drivers and passengers (PDF 497 KB).
I’m Pregnant. Should I Wear a Seat Belt?
What’s the Right Way to Wear My Seat Belt?
Should I Adjust My Seat?
What if My Car or Truck Has Air Bags?
My Car Has an ON-OFF Air Bag Disabling Switch. Should I turn it off?
What Should I Do if I am Involved in a Crash?
The Real Deal. The safest way to ride is buckled up in a vehicle equipped with air bags. Even without an air bag, you are safer buckled up than you are with an air bag and not buckled up.
Myth. Incidents involving fire or water account for ½ of 1% of all crashes. But more importantly, you can’t escape such dangers unless you’re conscious. Wearing a seat belt gives you a much greater chance of being conscious and able-bodied.
Myth. Seemingly routine trips can be deceptively dangerous. Most fatal crashes happen within 25 miles from home and at speeds of less than 40 mph.
Real Deal. In a crash, everything in your car can cause bodily harm, but your seat belt is one of the few things that can actually save you.
Myth. For occupants in SUVs, pickups, and vans, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to the driver and front seat passenger by 60%.
Myth. Young men are most at risk. Among male passenger vehicle occupants ages 18-34 who were killed in 2017 fatal crashes, 60% were not buckled.
False, 49 of 50 states have a seat belt law.
A seat belt
When parents ride without their seat belts.
The time to transition your child out of a booster seat and into a seat belt usually comes when the child is between 8 and 12 years old. Keep your children in booster seats until they outgrow the size limits of the booster seats or are big enough to fit properly in seat belts.
Fitting a Child Correctly in a Seat Belt
For your child to properly fit in a seat belt, he or she must be tall enough to sit without slouching and be able to:
Remember, always check your child’s belt fit in every vehicle. A booster seat may be needed in some vehicles and not in others. If the seat belt does not fit properly yet, your child should continue to use a booster seat.
Modeling Seat Belt Safety
As a parent, you are your kids’ strongest influence when it comes to modeling safe driving practices, including buckling up every time you get in the car. Teach your family that safety is the responsibility of all passengers as well as the driver.
As your child grows, you may face challenges enforcing seat belt safety. Life as a parent is full of compromises, but seat belt safety is never up for negotiation. Follow these pointers and set the example of buckling up every time you get into the car. And remember: Never give up until they buckle up!
NOTE: All children under 13 ride in the back seat for maximum safety.
Seat Belt Safety Starts With Good Role Models
Learning the importance of wearing a seat belt starts with a good role model—and that’s you. As a parent or caregiver, you are the number one influence on your child’s seat belt safety. Research shows that children whose parents buckle up are much more likely to buckle up themselves.
Consistency is Key
Consistently remind your children to buckle up properly the whole ride, and never assume they’re buckled up! Learn tips to motivate your tweens to buckle up, and make it a rule in your family that everyone follows the same practices as you: Always buckle up before moving the car, no matter how short or routine the drive, and make sure all children are buckled up properly.
The Proper Seat Belt Fit for Your Child
The risk of injury among child passengers is significantly higher when their seat belts are loose and/or improperly positioned. Learn about the proper seat belt fit for your child and why your children may not be wearing their seat belts correctly.
Front or Back—When is the Front Seat Safe for My Child?
All children under age 13 should ride in the back seat for maximum safety. The back seat is the safest place for your children because most crashes occur in the front of the car and the back seat is farthest from this impact.
Why Parents and Caregivers Forget About or Forego Seat Belt Safety
We know life as a parent is full of distractions and often hectic, making it easy to forget or forego buckling up altogether. See if any of these excuses for not buckling up sound familiar, then do whatever it takes to buckle up and make sure your kids do the same:
Getting your kids to properly buckle up and stay buckled can be a battle of wills. There are several reasons why children 8 to 14 may forget or not want to wear their seat belts. For as many reasons as your kids can protest against wearing a seat belt, we’ve got tips to help you motivate them to buckle up.
Tweens are going through several developmental stages—social, cognitive and emotional—which offer helpful insights into what makes sense to them and what motivates them. Learn about the developmental stages and motivational messages get your kids to buckle up properly, the whole ride, every time.
We know you make every effort to keep your kids safe. However, parenting can be a hectic job. The daily routine of getting your kids to and from school and other activities can be hurried and chaotic, creating an environment where insisting on wearing a seat belt is not top of mind. See if you face these five challenges to getting tweens to wear — and stay in — their seat belts.
No Matter How Hurried or Chaotic, Don’t Negotiate!
As a parent, sometimes you let your kids have their way. But their safety should never be up for negotiation, no matter how much they push back on the seat belts being uncomfortable or unnecessary for just a “short drive.” Here are some tips to help you win the seat belt battle:
It’s been a long time since your little ones transitioned from a booster seat into an adult seat belt, and now they’re teenagers. Think it’s time to relax? Think again. The majority of teens involved in fatal crashes aren’t wearing their seat belts.
Buckling up is not a one-time conversation—it’s ongoing. Set the example by always wearing your seat belt, and remind your teens buckling up is the law.
To learn more, visit our Teen Driving section.
Your seat belt is crucial to surviving a crash. Make it a habit to always buckle up every time.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, D.C. 20590
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