Staying Safe: Five Tips for Proper Seatbelt Use

A young child looks down as her mother buckles her seatbelt in the backseat of a car.

Motor vehicle crashes are a serious preventable public health concern and are among the leading causes of injury and death across the United States, killing nearly 100 people every day.

Seatbelts are the single most effective safety device when it comes to preventing injury and death in motor vehicle crashes.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts has one of the lowest seatbelt usage rates in the country: it’s estimated that just 77% of Massachusetts residents wear their seatbelts, compared to 91% nationally.

In many motor vehicle accidents, fatalities occur because the victim isn’t wearing a seatbelt.

Wearing a seatbelt and ensuring that children are buckled into age- and weight-appropriate car seats/booster seats can reduce the risk of severe injury and death by 50%.

Here are five seatbelt safety tips to keep in mind next time you get in a vehicle – whether as the driver or as a passenger.

Always buckle up!

Buckle up every trip – whether you’re driving on the highway or just up the street.

Ensure seatbelts fit properly

A properly fitted shoulder belt should lie snugly across the center of the chest and shoulder; it should not lie on your neck or be slipping off your shoulder.

Lap belts should lie snugly across the upper thighs or low on your hips, not on your stomach.

If you find yourself with a seatbelt that isn’t long enough, consider obtaining a belt extender from your vehicle manufacturer.

Observe proper seatbelt safety for children

Requirements will vary depending on your child’s age – in Massachusetts, children must ride in a child safety seat until they are eight years old or more than 57 inches tall.

Ensure that booster seats or car seats are properly installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If your child is old enough to use a regular seatbelt, ensure that the seatbelt fits properly and that he or she wears the seatbelt at all times.

Model safe seatbelt use

Especially when teaching teens how to drive, modeling the correct behavior is vitally important – your child is watching how you drive, whether you notice it or not.

For that reason, it’s essential to be a model of proper seatbelt use – it’s hard to preach seatbelt safety to your child if you’re not using a seatbelt properly yourself!

If your child sees you wear a seatbelt every time you’re in the car, it’s more likely that he or she will mimic that behavior when driving or riding as a passenger.

Never say never

Many people try to excuse lax seatbelt use by saying they’re not going far or are a “good driver,” so they don’t need a seatbelt.

However, accidents happen – they can happen to good drivers and on quick trips.

Using caution while behind the wheel and observing safe driving habits are both great ways to stay safe on the roads, but you should also wear a seatbelt to give yourself that extra layer of protection.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a number of great resources for drivers, including a video on the Proper Seatbelt Fit for Children and a Car Seat Finder.

This blog was written by the South Shore Health Trauma Program Injury Prevention Team.

Learn more about our Injury Prevention Program.