Ask the Traffic School Instructor: Seat Belt Entrapment
July 8, 2014
Question: I know that you are supposed to wear a seat belt but I’m afraid of being trapped in my car if it should catch fire or go into the water. Are my fears real?
Answer: First off, I would never say anyone’s fears aren’t real. They are your fears so they are valid to you. Instead, let’s take a look at the reality of being trapped by a seat belt.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the type of crash you are imagining happens in less than one-half of one percent of all crashes. If we could plan our driving habits based on the type of crash we were going to have, then we could probably, just as easily, plan not to have a crash to begin with. But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume you were one of the one-half of one percent involved in a crash into water or one that caused your vehicle to catch fire. What could happen to you if you weren’t wearing a seat belt?
Whether you crash into another vehicle or into water, your unbelted body will have no choice but to obey the laws of physics and continue traveling at whatever speed the car was traveling before the crash. That means your body will smash into the steering wheel at say 35 or 45 mph. Even in a relatively low speed crash at 25 mph, a small woman weighing 115 pounds will strike the steering wheel with a force of 2,404 lbs. If your car tumbles or spins out, your unbelted body will be thrown around inside the vehicle and you’ll probably have multiple impact points before coming to rest. Even if you’re still conscious after going through that sort of trauma, you probably won’t be in any shape to escape the vehicle.
No matter what type of crash or how violent it may be, you’re always better off securely fastened in place until the vehicle comes to a stop. By remaining fastened in, your chances of remaining conscious and healthy enough to effect an escape from the vehicle are tremendously increased.
As far as being trapped by the seat belt itself, mechanically, there’s nothing simpler than a seat belt latch. There is just one simple button to push and the probability of such a simple mechanism failing is astronomically small.
May I suggest, instead of fearing the consequences of wearing a seat belt, that you turn that around into a fear of the consequences of not wearing a seat belt.