From 1975 to 2017, seat belts are estimated to have saved 374,276 lives. More recent estimates are unavailable. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that using lap and shoulder seat belts reduces the risk of:
- Front seat passenger car occupant deaths by 45%
- Front seat passenger car occupant moderate to critical injuries by 50%
- Front seat light truck occupant deaths by 60%
- Front seat light truck occupant moderate to critical injuries by 65%
Starting with the COVID-19 pandemic it appears that seat belt use was negatively impacted. The percent of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant deaths increased from 46.6% in 2019 to 50.9% in 2020 and 50.0% in 2021. However, even with this setback, the data clearly reflects the safety impact of seat belt use. In 2000, only 70.7% of front seat passengers were observed using seat belts, and 60.2% of occupant deaths were unrestrained. The 2021 data show that seat belt use is at 90.4%, and unrestrained occupant deaths currently account for 50% of deaths. Encouragingly, 2022 seat belt usage has further increased to 91.6%.
Seat belt use estimates come from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), conducted annually by NHTSA. NOPUS includes the observation of drivers and right-front passengers of passenger vehicles with no commercial or governmental markings.
- Data Table
The youngest and oldest victims experience the smallest percent of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant deaths; 31% of deaths among children age 0 to 4 are unrestrained, while 26% of deaths among adults 75 and older are unrestrained. This compares sharply with the 25- to 34-age group, which experiences 61% unrestrained deaths.
- Data Table
The infographic below helps quantify the benefits of using seat belts/restraints, and reveals the higher proportion of unrestrained deaths among males and of unrestrained deaths at night versus daytime.
- Data Table
National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2022, January). Seat belt use in 2021 – Overall results. (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 813 407). Washington, DC: NHTSA.
National Safety Council (NSC) analysis of NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data.
National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2019, 2013, 2010, 2007). Lives saved in (2017, 2012, 2008, 2006) by restraint use and minimum-drinking-age laws (Traffic Safety Facts Crash Stats. Report No. DOT HS 812 683, 811 851, 811 153, 810 869). Washington, DC: NHTSA.