Van drivers Are Legally Required to Wear a Seat Belt in Most States
- Seat belts save lives by restraining vehicle occupants.
- Seat belts have been mandatory since the 1980s.
- Air bags alone aren’t enough to protect van drivers.
- Only New Hampshire does not mandate seat belt use.
Seat Belts Are Required in Most States
Not all states enforce seat belt use in the same way. New Hampshire, for example, doesn’t require seat belt use for adult drivers and passengers, although children under 18 are required to wear a seat belt. This is the only state with such liberal seat belt rules.
The remaining states’ laws are divisible into two categories: primary and secondary.
Primary seat belt laws allow for law enforcement to issue a citation for failure to wear a seatbelt as the primary offense.
Secondary seat belt laws allow an officer to issue a seat belt citation only in the event of an initial, primary traffic infraction.
The Governors Highway Safety Association website has more information about the seat belt laws in each state.
There is also a distinction between driver, front passenger, and rear passenger seating positions when it comes to the requirements. New York, for example, requires that both the driver, front, and rear passengers wear a seat belt. It is also a primary offense state.
The CDC believes that further legislation can prevent even more deaths from a lack of seat belt use. The government agency recommends that secondary enforcement states switch to primary enforcement.
Primary enforcement leads to a 9% higher use of seatbelts when compared to secondary enforcement, thus saving lives.
Despite this data, 19 states lack primary enforcement laws, and these states often have less seat belt use.
These laws not only need to be updated, but existing laws need to be better enforced. Enforcement of existing laws typically leads to a 16 percent increase in seat belt usage, nearly double that of stricter laws.
When cars and vans became common in the 20th century, safety was not a primary concern. Many accidents that would be considered minor today used to be fatal. Cars and pedestrians shared the road, and safety rules were not established until many people were injured or killed.
Risk of Accidents is High
Because most people drive every day, the risks associated with doing so are not evident. Most people don’t know that automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans under 30.
What’s even less known is that at one point more than half of those killed were not wearing seat belts.
In 2009, 53% of passengers and drivers killed in accidents were not wearing seat belts. While this number has decreased to just 39%, it is still a disproportionately large number of unrestrained deaths.
Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the vehicle occupants simply wore a seat belt. According to the NHTSA, seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives in 2017 and could have saved over 2,500 more if the people had been wearing seatbelts.
Some people don’t believe that they need to wear seatbelts as they consider themselves to be good drivers. Whether or not somebody is a good driver is irrelevant.
You could be driving very well while a drunk driver is speeding and crashes into you, causing you to be ejected from your van and killed.
Seat Belts Are the Most Effective Safety Device
When it comes to safety, these laws exist for good reason. The seat belt is the single most effective piece of safety equipment in your van. Airbags alone are not as safe as if you were wearing a seat belt.
Seat belts are also essential in preventing an ejection. This is when your body is thrown outside of the vehicle during impact, a very risky situation that significantly increases your risk of death.
Some people are concerned about seat belts and getting stuck in their van after it’s already crashed. This concern is unwarranted because the seat belt will prevent you from losing consciousness during impact, enabling you to escape the vehicle.
There are also those who do not use the shoulder belt, electing to leave it between themselves and the seat, believing that the lap belt alone offers sufficient protection in the event of an accident. This is false.
Many years of data show that both the lap and shoulder belt increase the probability of keeping control of the vehicle and minimize the chance of injury and death.
Other van drivers believe that they don’t need to wear seat belts because they are larger than most vehicles on the road. Once again, the size of the vehicle will not help the occupants survive if they are ejected of lose consciousness due to being thrown around in the vehicle.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, being in a larger vehicle won’t keep you safe. When looking at statistics for professional truck drivers (trucks are much bigger than vans) in 2006, 805 drivers and occupants of such vehicles were killed in accidents.
81% of those killed were not wearing seat belts.
There is almost never a case when omitting to wear a seatbelt is a survival advantage, even if it’s more convenient to do so.
A Mistaken Perception of Restricted Freedom
For most people, these statistics alone make a case for the wearing of seat belts. However, some are not convinced. They believe that seat belts encroach on their freedom, and if they want to drive their van without a seat belt, they alone are assuming that risk. This, of course, is not true.
By not wearing a seat belt, not only are you risking your own life, but you’re risking others’ lives by not being in full control of your vehicle. If you are involved in an accident and are thrown across the vehicle, you are no longer in control of it.
The potential risks of wearing a seat belt, which do exist, are far smaller than the risks of not doing so. While you could theoretically be injured by a seat belt, the seat belt will most likely keep you conscious in the event of an accident.
You will have a higher probability of then unbuckling the seatbelt and escaping the damaged vehicle.
Apart from safety consequences, there are legal consequences for ignoring seat belts in most of the US.
Seat Belts Weren’t Always Mandatory
Safety features and standardized rules began to appear as accidents became more common. Despite innovations in car body design, airbags and other safety technology, seatbelts were not mandatory in the United States until the 1980s.
Today, most drivers in the US buckle up without a second thought, but this wasn’t always the case.
As recently as 1981, only 11% of Americans wore seat belts while in a motor vehicle. It was during this decade, that seatbelt laws were becoming widespread in the United States, saving thousands of lives.
It took many years before widespread seat belt adoption was rolled out nationwide, and as a result, many drivers and passengers died in automobile accidents. In 2020, however, over 90% of US vehicle occupants were wearing seat belts, saving thousands of lives.
A Brief History of Seat Belts
The first seat belt was invented by Sir George Cayley in Yorkshire, England, in the 19th century. He built the first glider that had a person in it and used a lap belt to secure the pilot. The aircraft crashed, and the pilot survived.
The first patent for the seat belt was granted in the US in 1885. Despite seat belts’ existence since the beginning of the widespread adoption of automobiles, they were primarily used in special cases such as auto racing. They weren’t considered essential for everyday driving.
On September 25, 1961, Wisconsin became the first state to require seat belts to be installed in the front seats of all new cars. Despite such a requirement, neither the driver nor passengers were required to wear them.
Seat belts later became mandatory equipment nationwide in 1968, but that didn’t mean their use was compulsory. New York was the first state to mandate driver and front passenger seat belt use in 1985.
While seatbelts are sometimes uncool and uncomfortable, they are an important safety device in your van, and you should wear them. Even if you believe that you should be able to make your own decisions about your safety, think of your family and friends who would be greatly impacted by your preventable death.
A quick search on YouTube for crash test videos without seat belts helps illustrate the dangers of not wearing them. Most people are visual learners and need to be shown the consequences of their decision-making.
Every van comes with seat belts for a reason. You and your passengers should be using them whenever the vehicle is in motion.