Seat Belt Usage
More than 90 percent of Americans age 16 and above drive a motor vehicle; of those, nearly 80 percent claim to wear their seat belts at all times while driving. These figures come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which also estimates that seat belts saved more than 135,000 lives between 1975 and 2001. While many people wear their seat belts because they recognize the safety factor, others wear them because failure to do so can result in a fine. Regardless of the reason one wears a seat belt, the fact is that since the 1950s they have been proven to save lives.
However, many people refuse to wear seat belts. They say that the belts are too uncomfortable, or they say they are only driving a short distance. They may also say that they simply forget. With the growing prevalence of state “primary laws,” in which police officers are allowed to stop cars at random to perform seat-belt checks, people are clearly more careful when they know they may be facing a fine.
The first seat belts were not installed in cars by auto manufacturers. Early automobiles did not go particularly fast, and there were relatively few cars on the road. As the number of motor vehicles increased, so did the amount of danger. In the 1930s, a number of physicians, seeing the results of traffic accidents, lobbied car makers to create some sort of restraining device to keep people from being thrown from a car in an accident. Several doctors actually designed their own lap belts and installed them in their autos.
It was not until the 1950s that seat belts began to appear with some regularity. In 1954 the Sports Car Club of America began to require drivers to wear lap belts as they raced. Soon afterward such groups as the National Safety Council (NSC), American College of Surgeons, and International Association of Chiefs of Police issued their own recommendations for the manufacture and installation of seat belts. The Swedish auto manufacturer Volvo began marketing lap belt in 1956; that same year both Ford and Chrysler decided to offer lap belts as well. Seat belts were not required by law, though, in the United States until 1968.