Driving without a Seatbelt

The scenario goes like this: The driver has very little experience and is about 16 years old. There are several other teens in the car, and it is late at night. The kids have been drinking when the crash occurs, and the driver was speeding and distracted when he lost control of the car. Because of inexperience, the driver did not correctly judge the circumstances when the accident occurred, either overcorrecting a turn or underestimating a road hazard.

Since the Iraq war began five years ago, America has lost over 4,175 lives on foreign soil. However, in just one year (2005), 4,544 teens ages 16 to 19 died in automobile crashes, and 400,000 passengers in this age group sustained nonfatal injuries requiring medical treatment in hospital emergency departments. Many of these deaths would not have happened if the teens had simply been wearing their seatbelts. For example, in that same year (2005), three out of four teen drivers killed in crashes after drinking and driving were not wearing a seatbelt.

We know that boys are almost twice as likely to rarely or never wear seat belts than girls are. We know that African-American and Hispanic high school students have about the same rate of seatbelt use as all high school males, which means over 10 percent rarely or never wear their belts. We also know that teenagers have a much higher accident rate than other age groups.

The frustrating thing is that many states have passed graduated driver’s license laws that attempt to correct many of the problems of the typical scenario of a teen accident. The new laws usually provide that teen drivers cannot drive at night during their first year or so of driving. They cannot have passengers in their cars, and there has to be an adult present. Some states have even passed legislation making it is illegal to text or use cell phones while driving. Yet even with such laws, it is hard to get one in 10 teenagers to buckle up, especially when they are with peers. Most teens consider it too dorky to enforce a seatbelt rule among their friends.

What can parents do? If your state does not have a graduated licensing law, you can put similar rules in place for your own children. Don’t allow them to drive at night with a group of passengers until they have six months to a year’s driving experience. Make sure they have at least 36 hours of behind-the-wheel training with an adult, and that they practice with an adult under all kinds of conditions: bad weather, highway, rocky mountain roads, etc.

If you do not trust your child and his or her friends to buckle up when you are not with them, you can install a Drive-Cam in the rearview mirror of your teen’s car. This will record everything that goes on, and therefore the device becomes the “heavy” that enforces your seatbelt rule.