The Most Shocking Seat Belt Statistics

Last modified: August 13, 2021

One of the safest decisions drivers and passengers can make is to wear their seat belts while driving. They not only minimize the chances of an accident but also prevent occupants from suffering any serious injury. Most American citizens understand the value of seat belts and their potential for saving lives, which is why the national seat belt use was at 90.3% in 2020. 

This article will look at seat belt death statistics to help you understand that not wearing a seat belt can lead to potentially fatal consequences. We will also highlight what you can do to ensure that you and your passengers wear seat belts correctly every time you’re in a vehicle. 

Editors Picks 

Seat belt use is the most helpful way to reduce injuries and save the lives of adults and children. Despite that, millions drive unrestrained and face severe consequences of not wearing a seatbelt. We will look at some of the most frightening and interesting seat belt facts and statistics below. 

  • Out of the 22,220 passengers killed in car accidents in 2019, nearly 48% were not wearing a seat belt. (NHTSA)
  • Seat belts help save around 15,000 lives annually in the United States. (NHTSA)
  • If you wear a seat belt when driving, you reduce your risk of fatal injury by 45%. (NHTSA)
  • Over 55% of people killed in car crashes during the nighttime were not wearing a seat belt. (NHTSA)
  • A total of 22,700 drivers and passengers were killed in car accidents in 2018. (NHTSA)
  • The national seat belt use was at nearly 91% in 2019. (NHTSA)
  • From 1975 to 2017, seat belts have saved 374,196 lives. (NHTSA)
  • Hawaii boasts the highest seat belt use of 97.1% in the US, while New Hampshire has the lowest, with only 70.7% of people wearing seat belts when driving. (NHTSA)
  • According to seat belts statistics, adults aged between 18 to 34 are 10% less likely to wear a seat belt. (CDC)
  • Individuals not wearing a seat belt are 30% more likely to be ejected from the vehicle in an accident. (CDC)

How Many People Die From Not Wearing Seat Belts?

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among people aged between 1 and 54 in the United States. According to Traffic Safety Facts, 22,700 drivers and passengers were killed in car accidents in 2018, 43% of whom were unrestrained. 

In addition, young adult drivers and passengers aged between 18 and 24 have the highest crash-related non-fatal injury rates. (CDC) In 2018, emergency rooms in the US treated over 2.2 million crash-related injuries. (CDC

The leading causes of car crashes include: 

The best thing drivers and passengers can do to protect themselves from serious injuries is to wear a seat belt. It improves their chances of returning home to their families safely. 

But how effective are seat belts? According to the NHTSA, “Seat belts are the single most effective safety technology in the history of the automobile.” When you’re wearing a seat belt, your chances of getting a moderate to critical injury in an accident reduce by 50%. 

Unfortunately, not only adults disregard a seatbelt. Statistics have revealed that nearly half of all children aged between 8 to 12 killed in car crashes in 2017 were unrestrained. (CDC)

Seat Belts Through History: Why Are Seat Belts Important?

Seat belts have saved over 375,000 lives since 1975. If this statistic isn’t enough to persuade you into wearing a seat belt, let’s discuss some of the main benefits of seat belts that highlight just how vital a seat belt can be for drivers and passengers. 

  • It prevents you from being ejected from your vehicle in an accident.
  • It protects you from the force of an airbag deploying in a car crash.
  • It ensures all passengers are safe in the vehicle.
  • It impacts your car insurance rates. 

As 47% of all fatalities among car crash victims in 2019 didn’t wear seat belts, there should be no doubt regarding the role seat belts play in keeping you safer on the road. (NHTSA)

When Was the First Seat Belt Invented?

If we look through seatbelt history, seat belts have been around for over a century, and the first patented seat belt was created on February 10, 1885, by American Edward J. Claghorn. It was meant to keep tourists safe in taxis in New York City. Over time, the seat belt was slowly introduced into cars to help drivers and passengers stay put in their car seats. However, there was less emphasis on overall driving safety at that time. 

Who Invented a Seat Belt?

In the late 1800s, Englishman George Cayley invented the seat belt to help keep pilots inside their gliders. 

However, the three-point seat belt that we commonly see today in cars was designed in 1958 by Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin to better protect drivers and passengers. 

When Did Seat Belts Come Out in Cars?

Even though the seat belt was invented in the late 1800s, it wasn’t until the mid-1930s when several US physicians started testing lap belts and immediately saw their impact. After that, they began urging manufacturers to equip all cars with seat belts.

How Did Seat Belts Become Mandatory?

It was in the late 1950s when elected officials started studying the scientific findings of university crash tests. They were looking at ways to reduce driver fatality rates. The early 1960s saw several state legislatures passing laws requiring the use of seat belts in new cars. The movement led to a government response enforcing rules for better auto safety. 

When Did Seatbelts Become Standard?

Congress sanctioned the federal government to establish safety standards for new cars in 1966, and by 1968, padded dashboards, seat belts, and other safety features became mandatory equipment.

Do Seat Belts Cause More Accidents?

Drivers who wear seat belts feel more secure in their cars and therefore drive less carefully, which has resulted in more traffic accidents. Even though seat belts decrease the fatality rate among drivers wearing them, fatalities of other people increase, offsetting the positive effects of this safety device.

How Often Do Seat Belts Fail?

Even though seat belts are designed for driver’s safety, it’s not uncommon for seat belts to fail in a car crash. The NHTSA reports an estimated 3 million injuries and 40 thousand deaths every year due to seat belts failing to perform as expected in a car accident. (

Seat Belt Safety for Adults

The NHTSA claims that wearing a seat belt is the single most effective way to protect yourself during a car accident. It also states that seat belts are the most cost-effective public safety measure in vehicles. In 2019, 47% of all passenger vehicle occupants who got killed were not wearing seat belts. 

Now, let’s discuss some of the ways seat belts keep you safe. 

What Is the First Way That Will Keep You Safe While Wearing a Seat Belt?

The primary purpose of the seat belt is to keep you safe and in one place when you’re driving. The force of the impact in a car accident can throw you out of the car, and you could get ejected from the vehicle through the windshield. The consequences of not wearing a seatbelt could be dire, resulting in severe damages and fatal injuries. But a properly working seat belt will keep you at a safe distance from the airbag and the dashboard. 

How Do Seat Belts Keep You Safe?

Seat belts offer the best protection against distracted, impaired, and aggressive drivers on the road. When you wear a seat belt and get into an accident, it helps keep you safe and secure inside the vehicle. In addition, it stops you from being ejected from your car, which might be fatal. If you don’t wear a seat belt, you could be thrown against the windshield and dashboard, which could cause broken ribs and serious head injuries. 

How Do I Keep My Seat Belt From Choking Me?

To ensure that your seat belt doesn’t choke you, you must learn how to wear it properly. Start by ensuring the shoulder belt and lap belt are secured across the rib cage and pelvis, which will be able to withstand the force of the crash better than other parts of your body. Now, place the shoulder belt away from your neck and across the middle part of your chest. Finally, make sure the lap belt doesn’t rest on your stomach but across your hips. 

Seat Belt Laws by State

Sources: GHSA,

Apart from New Hampshire, all the states, including the District of Columbia, have made it mandatory for adult front-seat occupants to wear seat belts. In addition, 39 states, the District of Columbia, and two territories also have laws enforcing rear seat belt use for passengers. There are also separate child seat belt laws, which vary by state. Moreover, there is primary enforcement in 35 states and the District of Columbia. 

Primary enforcement laws authorize police officers to stop and cite motorists for not wearing a seat belt. In states with secondary enforcement, police officers may only enforce the law when the motorist has been pulled over for another violation. 

It is estimated that primary enforcement laws are more effective at getting people to wear seat belts. In 2019, the use of seat belts by front-seat occupants was 6% higher in states that had primary enforcement compared to states with secondary enforcement seat belt laws (92% vs. 86%).

What Happens if a Front Seat Occupant Doesn’t Wear a Seat Belt?

In an accident, any individual not wearing a seat belt will be thrown forward at the speed the vehicle was moving until something stops them. That could be the dashboard, windscreen, or steering wheel. In most crashes, the individual can burst through the windows and be partially or entirely ejected from the car. 

They can be run over by their own vehicle or an oncoming vehicle and may hit fixed objects on the road. Even if the car has an airbag, the force at which the unrestrained individual hits the airbag may result in serious injuries or death. 

What Happens if My Rear Seat Passengers Don’t Wear a Seat Belt?

In an accident, rear-seat passengers who aren’t wearing a seat belt may be thrown forward until they hit an object, which is mainly the front seat. The force with which they will collide with the seat may cause serious injuries. In addition, their head can strike a blow to passengers in the front seat, which may kill or injure them.

Are There Any Fines for Not Wearing a Seat Belt?

There are demerit points and seat belt penalties for drivers who don’t wear a seat belt or haven’t ensured their passengers are wearing one. Unrestrained passengers aged 16 and older will also be fined. Moreover, drivers of the vehicle are responsible for passengers under 16 years old to wear seat belts or be seated in approved car seats.

Every individual in the car must have a proper seating position and wear a dedicated seat belt. It’s unsafe and illegal to have too many people in a vehicle, especially sitting on other people’s laps or on the floor. It’s also illegal for people to travel in the boot of the vehicle or any other part of the car designed to carry goods. 

Seat Belt Death Statistics by Year 

Seat belt statistics prove that seat belts are lifesavers, and when used correctly, they minimize the risk of fatal injury for front seat car occupants by nearly 45%. (NHTSA) The good news is that seat belt use has gradually improved over the years. In 2000, only 70.7% of front-seat occupants used seat belts, and 50.9% of occupants who died chose not to wear them. (

However, the latest data of 2020 revealed that seat belt use among front-seat occupants rose to 90.3%. (NHTSA) That’s an impressive jump, which shows that people now use seat belts more frequently when driving. 

How Many Lives Are Saved by Seat Belts Each Year?

Seat belts have saved millions of lives ever since they were made mandatory in cars. Moreover, they helped cut the risk of fatal injuries suffered by car drivers and passengers by half. In 2017, seat belts saved 14,955 people, and 2,549 more lives could have been saved if everyone had worn seat belts. (NHTSA)

What Percentage of Americans Use Seat Belts?

America has recently crossed an important milestone for road safety, as a record for seat belt use by Americans reached the 90.3% rate in 2020. (NHTSA) Compared to the past decade, seat belt use has improved by roughly 5% as more Americans are now advocating the use of life-saving safety equipment. 

Lap Belt Injury Statistics 

Even though seat belts are designed to save your life and reduce the risk of suffering from fatal injuries, there’s no guarantee that you will remain unharmed after an accident. An improperly worn lap belt can cause injury to the back, neck, shoulders, abdomen, and chest. Shoulder injuries are also common among occupants who wear shoulder strap-style seat belts. 

If you suffer from chest pains, it could be a serious injury due to broken ribs or a fractured sternum. Using lap belts can also cause trauma to the spine, which is why you must always ensure that you are wearing your seat belt properly. 

What Injuries Can Seat Belts Cause?

A seat belt is essential for holding occupants in place and avoiding serious injuries. Still, when an accident occurs, the force of the impact against another object or vehicle may lead to an injury. Some of the common injuries that seat belts can cause are:

  • Bruised or fractured ribs
  • Chest and sternum injuries 
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Abdominal soft tissue tear 
  • Abrasions and lacerations 

What Area of the Body Is Common for Pediatric Lap Belt Injuries?

Lap belt injury in the abdominal area is most common among children wearing lap belts. Even though your child may suffer an injury, a lap belt can potentially save their life, which is why its use must be encouraged. 

What Is a Seat Belt Injury?

A seat belt injury is an injury caused by the use of the seat belt. The primary purpose of the seat belt is to keep you in place and stop you from being flung against objects inside the car or thrown out of the vehicle. A significant force can be transmitted at the sites of seat belt impact (shoulder, chest, and abdomen), causing some injuries to your body. Some of them include:

  • Bruising and abrasions
  • Intra-abdominal injuries
  • Vertebral fractures

Are Lap Belts Still Legal?

Till the 1980s, three-point belts were available only for outboard front vehicle seats, while the back seats were often equipped with lap belts. However, due to the seat belt syndrome, all seating positions were eventually fitted with three-point belts. Since 2007, all new cars sold in the US require lap and shoulder belts in the middle rear seats. 

Seat Belt Use by Demographic 

Some people are more likely to wear seat belts when driving than others, and studies have found that it is all about the drivers’ age. Young drivers and teenagers like to push their limits and break laws, which is why they are least likely to wear seat belts when driving. Now, let’s look at seat belt use by demographic. 

What Demographic Is Least Likely to Wear Seat Belts?

Sources: CDC

The age group between 18 to 24 years old is least likely to wear seat belts than any other demographic. It is mainly because they believe they are invulnerable and can drive better unrestrained. Most young drivers and teens also think that wearing a seat belt isn’t cool and is something only older drivers, like their parents, do. 

Who Is Most Likely to Wear a Seat Belt?

Source: CDC

According to seat belts statistics, females are more likely to wear a seat belt while driving than males. Studies have also revealed that people over 35 years old are more likely to wear a seat belt. 

How Wearing a Seat Belt Affects Your Insurance?

While seat belts can save your life, they can also affect your insurance rates. 

As most states enforce seat belt laws, receiving a seat belt ticket can affect your driving record and result in higher insurance rates

Most states consider a seat belt infraction a moving violation. While non-moving violations have no impact on your car insurance, moving violations cause your insurance premiums to go up. 

You can expect an increase of around 10% on your insurance premiums after a moving violation. However, it varies between insurers and is not as costly as other violations like drunk driving or reckless speeding. Your seat belt violation may also be forgiven if you have a history of being a responsible and safe driver. 

Is It Necessary to Replace Seat Belts After an Accident?

If you get involved in an accident, you should have your car inspected and get the damages fixed. 

In most cases, you’ll also need to repair or replace your seat belts. Even though internal damage may not always be noticeable, it’s best to get your car checked by a mechanic. That way, you’ll be surely protected in case you get into another accident.

How Driving Unrestrained Could Affect Your Claim for Compensation After Your Car Crash?

If you get into a car accident without wearing a seat belt, you will still be entitled to compensation. Although, depending on the severity of the injuries received due to not wearing a seat belt, the compensation amount may be lower than expected. 

Common Seat Belt Myths

Even though a seat belt can keep you safe and save your life in an accident, most people remain oblivious to its benefits. It’s estimated that seat belts have saved over 375,000 lives in accidents since 1975, but people today still have an excuse for not wearing one. That is partly due to some seat belt myths that have developed over time. We will look at the most common myths about seat belts and debunk them here for you. 

  • You Don’t Need to Use a Seat Belt if Your Car Has Airbags.

The safest way to ride in a vehicle is to wear a seat belt, even if your car has airbags. The impact of an airbag deploying without a seatbelt can cause serious injuries like broken ribs and fractured bones. It may even be deadly. By buckling up, you can avoid these injuries. Moreover, you won’t get injected from your car or crash into other passengers or the vehicle’s interior.

  • Seat Belts Can Trap You Underwater or in a Fire.

Accidents involving water or fire account for only 0.5% of all accidents. However, note that you won’t be able to deal with these dangerous situations if you’re unconscious. Wearing a seat belt improves your chances of staying conscious and getting out of a submerged vehicle or fire situation. 

  • Wearing a Seat Belt in a Pickup Truck Is Unnecessary Because It’s Safer.

According to seat belt injury statistics, drivers and passengers in pickups, vans, and SUVs are 60% less likely to get injured in an accident when they are wearing a seat belt.

  • Seat Belts Are Unnecessary if You’re Not Driving Fast or Too Far.

The most routine trips can turn into the most dangerous ones. Studies have found that most fatal crashes occur at speeds of less than 40 miles per hour and within 25 miles from home. Therefore, you need to wear a seat belt no matter how fast you’re driving and where you’re going. 

  • Your Seat Belt in a Crash Can Injure You. 

If you wear your seat belt properly, the chances of you getting injured by a seatbelt are slim. Even if you get some injuries, they will definitely be just some surface bruises and much less severe than those you could have gotten without wearing the belt. It has been consistently proved that injuries in most serious car accidents could have been much worse if not for the seatbelt. 

  • Young Guys Don’t Need to Wear Seat Belts as They Are for Older People. 

Young men are most likely not to wear a seat belt when driving and tend to get seriously injured or killed in accidents. In 2017, 60% of male occupants aged between 18 to 34 were killed in fatal crashes because of not wearing a seat belt. (NHTSA)

In Conclusion

Our seat belt death statistics have proved that there’s no doubt that seat belts are a life-saving tool, playing a vital role in keeping you safe when you’re driving. Since their invention, they have saved millions of lives, and with the national seat belt use figures climbing to 90.3% in 2020, things are looking up. The best prevention of fatal car crashes is to encourage the use of seat belts whenever you are driving. 

Car accidents can happen anytime and anywhere. Even the most careful drivers who never drive above the speed limit might get into an accident due to weather conditions or the irresponsibility of other drivers on the road. There are some factors you can’t control, but one thing is sure — always buckle up properly to avoid severe consequences of not wearing a seat belt. 


What Are the Main Functions of a Seat Belt?

Let’s look at the five benefits of wearing a seatbelt


  • Make the occupant decelerate at the same rate as the car in the crush.
  • Spread the impact force over the stronger parts of the occupant’s body. 
  • Prevent occupants from colliding with the interior parts of the vehicle.
  • Minimize the risk of being thrown out of the vehicle. 
  • Seat belts are designed to work alongside airbags in modern cars to slow the speed of the occupant and ensure a safer impact with the airbag.  

Can a Person Share a Seat Belt?

No. It’s not recommended to share a seat belt because a single seat belt is only designed to restrain one person. If you share a seat belt, you risk both occupants getting killed or seriously injured in an accident.

Small children who share a seat belt when riding on an adult’s lap are at particular risk. They could be crushed between the adult and the seat belt in an accident. 

How Can I Ensure My Seat Belt Provides Maximum Protection?

You must always ensure that the seat belt is firmly adjusted. An improperly adjusted seat belt won’t keep the occupant secure and will increase the risk of head contact with other parts of the vehicle’s interior. In an accident, the occupant may also experience intense seat belt loads when the seatbelt pulls against their body. 

You should also adjust the seat belt so that the lap portion is placed across your hips’ bony section, and the sash goes across your mid-shoulder and chest. 

As you’ve already learned in our seat belt death statistics, serious injuries are often caused by the lack of a seat belt or its improper use. So, make sure you buckle up properly!

Should a Seat Belt Be Worn During Pregnancy?

Yes, it is recommended by doctors. Wearing a seat belt during pregnancy remains the most effective way to protect your unborn child and yourself if you get into a car accident. The best way for pregnant women to wear a seat belt is to place the belt’s lap part as low as possible.