I am always surprised when a new or potential client approaches me and I learn that they weren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of their collision. The reasons for not doing so might seem to make sense to these folks but the reality is quite different. If you are sitting in the front seat of a car and are not wearing a seatbelt and get in a collision, the law says you may be responsible for some of the results. This is called failure to mitigate damages. All of us have the responsibility to minimize our injuries, damages and losses when we are the victims of negligence. However, if you are not wearing your seatbelt, a judge or jury may consider that you failed to mitigate (minimize) your damages and decide to reduce the value of your case as much as they want. Unfair? Maybe. But it’s the law. Here are 5 myths about seatbelt use I’ve heard over the years.
- If I crash I will be able to brace myself. My friends this is simply not possible and the reason is simple physics. Even in a low speed crash your bodyweight is multiplied by the cars speed. If you weigh 150 pounds and are in a low speed 20 mph accident you will effectively weigh 3000 pounds (150 x 20). Even if you have catlike reflexes and the strength of a medium sized ox, you can’t stop 3000 pounds from hitting the dashboard with your arms.
- I’m only going to the store on the corner. The vast majority of crashes occur within 25 miles of home and at less than 40 mph. There is nothing more to be said.
- I don’t wear a seatbelt so I can’t be trapped. Less than 1 percent of accidents involve submersion in water or fire. You are four times more likely to be killed if you are thrown from the car than if you stayed in. Don’t play those odds.
- I don’t need a seatbelt because I’m a great driver and I can avoid a crash. Most of us (that wear seatbelts) will be lucky to live at least 75 years. Assuming you live that long, you have an 80% chance of being in a crash. Most of the “great drivers” are young people. The number one killer of Americans under the age of 35 is car crashes. Even the best, most careful driver can be clobbered in a collision that was not his or her fault.
- Belts don’t make a difference. If you are involved in a head on collision at 100 mph you are probably right. However, most crashes don’t involve speeds that would kill regardless of whether seat belts are used. Seat belts reduce the likelihood of death or serous injury by 50%. Also, restrained drivers can control their cars better in an emergency and are more likely to avoid a crash.
As a kid in the early 70’s my mom always made us wear seatbelts. This was before the law made them mandatory. I will never forget the appearance our station wagon after a car came around a corner on two wheels and hit us. The impact literally knocked our car off its wheels. My brother was belted in the front seat. The hood of our car came through the windshield. If my brother wasn’t belted he would have been decapitated. I was belted in the backseat and was o.k. I can still see the teenage passenger of the car that hit us coming through the windshield and landing on the hood. Buckle up folks. Not only because it is the law but because there really isn’t a valid reason not too.