The Evolution of the Seat Belt

As car accident lawyers, we know that many drivers and passengers choose not to wear their seat belts if only driving a short distance or at slow speeds. They do not realize that most fatal car accidents happen within 25 miles from home and at speeds less than 40 MPH. Millions of people have no protection against traffic collision injuries because they do not wear their seat belts. Where did seat belts even originate? What do statistics show about wearing seat belts? Does the United States have laws about wearing them? Why are they so important? Read on and learn more about the importance of seat belts and how they can potentially save your life in a traffic collision. 

History of the Seatbelt

He had only owned his car for nine days before the 24-year-old actor, James Dean, perished in a car crash on September 30, 1955. While his death shocked the world, many realized that he might have survived the accident had he worn his seat belt. 

In the mid to late 1950s, because of Dean’s death, seat belt use took off. That same year, Swedish automaker Volvo became the first car manufacturer to offer seatbelt systems for safety. The company performed independent safety testing throughout the rest of the 1950s, and by the end of the decade, they successfully proved seat belt use did increase safety. 

While evidence about seat belts and safety was clear, US standard car equipment did not include them until the 1960s. 

In 1963, US congress ordered that minimum federal standards be adopted for safety belts as it recognized increased casualties that seat belt use could have prevented. 

Car manufacturers began to abide by mandates for seat belts, buckles, retractors, and other restraint equipment. In 1966, US Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Act, formally establishing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, thereby making seat belt installation mandatory for US automakers. 

Throughout the 1960s, peoples’ concerns about only using a lap belt ignited the popularity and ultimate use of the shoulder belt system. 

While states and territories make most of their seat belt laws, the federal government enforced the first belt law on January 1, 1968. The law declared that all vehicles need seat belt installation in all designated seating positions.

The use of seat belts was initially optional.

But on December 1, 1984, New York became the first state in the nation to implement a belt usage law—the Occupant Restraint Law— declaring drivers, occupants in the front passenger seat, and passengers under the age of 16 to wear a seat belt at all times. 

Since that day in 1968, belts and the laws regarding them have evolved to what you see today. 

New York Seat Belt Laws

By 1989, a total of 34 states had seat belt laws. By 1995, except for New Hampshire, every state had passed legislation mandating belt use. 

In 2002, a total of 19 states had primary enforcement belt laws, enabling law enforcement to give a ticket to a driver for not wearing a seat belt or ensuring that passengers wore theirs. Statistics show that seat belt use is higher in states with primary enforcement laws (88%) than states that do not have them (79%). 

New York became the 30th state in America to require all vehicle occupants to buckle up, regardless of age or seat, after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill in August of 2020; the law went into effect on November 1, 2020. 

Seat belt laws effectively reduce car crash deaths by 8% and injuries by 9%. 

In 2016, belt use in America increased from 14% to 90%. As of 2017, the percentage of seat belt users in New York equaled 93.4%. 

Importance of Seat Belts

Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of injuries from a car accident by 50%. From 1975-2008, seat belts saved approximately 255,000 lives. But why else are seat belts necessary? The following list reveals the importance of seat belts and what they can do for you.

Seat belts:

  • Keep the vehicle occupants inside.
  • Restrain the strongest parts of the body.
  • Spread out any force from a collision.
  • Help the body slow down.
  • Protect your brain and spinal cord.
  • Absorb the collision’s impact.

Contact Us

Have you suffered injuries from a car crash? Do you have concerns about liability regarding a traffic collision? Are there discrepancies in your police, medical, or insurance reports? Then contact Buffalo Car Accident Lawyers today! You will feel glad you did.