Wearing a seat belt is the automotive equivalent of wearing both straps on a backpack. Sure, it might not look cool, but the benefits definitely outweigh any real or potential loss of status. We know this. Of course we know this. Yet the latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that more than 10 percent of Americans are still determined to ride seat belt commando.
It’s true that cars have gotten safer over the last century, but that’s not saying much. Driving or riding in a car remains one of the most dangerous things we can do, and we do it constantly. (One wildlife cinematographer told mental_floss that the riskiest part of filming great white sharks is getting to the shoot.) Cars are more numerous and faster than ever, and drivers are more distracted. Last year saw 35,092 deaths by motor vehicle on American roads, a 7.2 percent increase over the previous year. Of the 10,000 people killed in passenger vehicles, nearly half had not been wearing seat belts.
This is not to say that we’re headed in the wrong direction. Seat belt use has shot up in the last few decades, from 11 percent in 1980 to a whopping 88.5 percent today, in large part thanks to mandatory "click it or ticket" seat belt laws and broader cultural acceptance. For most of us, putting on a seat belt has become an automatic act.
But there are holdouts. Motivations for seat belt refusal vary, Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety told Aarian Marshall at WIRED. Some people may opt out of seat belts for medical reasons (most of which are not supported by evidence). Others give the condom excuse: wearing a seat belt just doesn't feel as good. But Rader says one of the biggest reasons may be good old-fashioned petulance: "Some people dislike the government telling them what to do." It’s probably no coincidence that most seat belt refusers are men.
Ironically, men are the ones most likely to benefit from wearing their seat belts. Crash test facilities only started including "female" dummies in 2011, which means that most of the cars and seat belts on the road today were designed to protect men’s larger, differently proportioned bodies.
So no, seat belts are not a perfect solution. But between feeling slightly uncomfortable and getting launched through the windshield like a ragdoll at 60 miles an hour, we know which one we’d choose.
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