It’s time for work. You walk out the door balancing your coffee mug in the palm of your hand with your key ring looped around your pinky finger. You unlock your car and climb in while piling all your belongings in the passenger seat. Unconsciously, you reach your right hand over your left shoulder and pull the seat belt across your body, clicking it in place. Congratulations! You just reduced your chances of fatal injury in a crash by 45%.
Unfortunately, that impulse to strap yourself into your seat is not automatic for everyone. According to the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University, seat belt usage has fallen across the state from 91.3% in 2018 to 87.1% in 2020.
While that difference may not be stark, it can have a significant impact on the fatality of car accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seat belts, in 2017 alone.
“Not wearing your seatbelt can put you at higher risk of the two things that kill people the most after any trauma which are traumatic brain injury and fatal hemorrhage,” said WakeMed Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Patrick Georgoff.
ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS TO WHO SHOULD WEAR A SEAT BELT?
No. Wearing a seat belt — or being properly secured in a car seat for young children — is universal. The WakeMed Trauma Center is familiar with treating car crash victims, and Dr. Georgoff insists that everyone buckle up to avoid serious injury.
“One thing [I] can definitely confirm through my work in the WakeMed Trauma Center is that terrible injuries as the result of car accidents do not discriminate,” said Dr. Patrick Georgoff. “It effects all ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses.”
Dr. Georgoff mentions that anecdotally there seems to be a misconception that women who are pregnant should not buckle up. This is not true. Buckling up is still completely safe for women who are pregnant and is the best decision in order to reduce chances of traumatic injury in a car accident. Learn more about seat belt safety and pregnancy.
ARE THERE TIMES WHEN IT’S OKAY NOT TO BUCKLE UP?
Again, no. Just as car crashes do not discriminate demographically, they also do not discriminate based on time or location. Most fatal car accidents happen within 25 miles of your home and at speeds of only 40 MPH according to the NTHSA.
More importantly, buckling up every single time signals to everyone else in the vehicle that it is the right thing to do.
“It is also extremely important to model seat belt safety for kids,” Dr. Georgoff urges. “As a parent, there is no negotiation to wearing seat belts even if it’s just for a short drive.”
BUT I KNOW I’M A VERY CAUTIOUS DRIVER.
By buckling up, you are not only protecting yourself if you were to make a judgement error on the road, but you are also taking a defensive action against other drivers. Seat belts are the best defense against impaired, aggressive or distracted drivers.
Dr. Georgoff says that one of the hardest things about being a trauma surgeon is taking care of patients who were injured at no fault of their own. Often patients he treats were injured due to the poor choices or simple mistakes of another driver that caused an accident.
The bottom line — if you are going to be in a vehicle, you should be wearing a seat belt. It may just save your life.
ABOUT THE WAKEMED TRAUMA PROGRAM
From pre-hospital and emergency care to surgery, intensive care and rehabilitation, WakeMed’s Trauma program features a network of care and specialists who are dedicated to preserving life and getting patients on the road to recovery. A continuum of services support trauma patients, starting with EMS and our trauma surgeons to spiritual care, imaging, lab, neurosurgeons, orthopaedists, rehab specialists and more.
WAKEMED TRAUMA CENTERS
As Wake County’s only provider of trauma services and a regional trauma referral center, our two trauma centers — a Level I Trauma Center at Raleigh Campus and a Level III Trauma Center at Cary Hospital — and the WakeMed Trauma teams are standing ready to provide immediate care for the seriously injured.