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Seat Belts

Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among people less than 35 years of age. There is a 30% chance of being involved in a serious automobile accident in your lifetime. There are 2.7 million people injured each year from automobile accidents. There are 37,000 people killed each year in automobile accidents. Eighty percent of the deaths occur in cars traveling less than 40 miles per hour and less than 25 miles from home. Seat belts could prevent 50% of the fatalities and 55% of the serious injuries. Some people say they can brace themselves if involved in an accident. A thirty-mile an hour collision is equivalent to jumping off a three-story building, so I really don't think people are capable of bracing themselves for that forceful an impact. I have heard people say that the reason they don't wear seat belts is because they are afraid they will be trapped in their car in case of fire. Well, contrary to what television might make one think, less than 1 out of 200 injury-producing accidents involves a fire. Your chances of getting out of a burning car are much greater if you wear your seat belts. This is because you are much more likely to be conscious and capable of crawling out of a burning car if you are wearing your seat belts when the accident occurs. We have all heard the stories of someone who survived a severe accident and were not wearing their seat belt. They were told by the police officer or the driver of the wrecker, that they would have died had they been wearing their seat belt. I believe this does occur, but it is a rare event. You have to consider that your overall chances of surviving a severe auto accident is increased dramatically by wearing your seat belt. This has been proven over and over again in studies. It is important to also consider the type of injuries that occur when you are not wearing your seat belt. Your body is ejected forward against the wind shield. This can result in a broken neck which can cause paralysis of the body from the neck down (quadriplegia.) In fact, auto accidents are the leading cause of quadriplegia in the United States. An important measure to reduce injury while biking is to wear a safety helmet.

Infant and child restraints are also very important to use starting when you bring your infant home from the hospital. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death in infants and children. Over 50 % of these deaths could be prevented by using infant and child restraints. It is important to attach the restraint properly or it will not be effective. Be sure to follow the instructions that are provided with the device. If you are uncertain about the proper way to attach the device, ask for help. Some authorities have suggested that the restraints are not properly installed over 90 % of the time. In some cities, the police department will help parents by checking for proper installation of child restraints.

Infants-Birth to one year old and up to 20 pounds. Infant only or rear facing convertible car seat.
Toddler-over one year and >20-40 pounds. Convertable/forward facing. Harness straps should be at or above the shoulders.
Young children-Greater than 40-80 pounds. Forward facing booster seat with lap and shoulder belts.
From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

The information provided above is offered as a community service about health-care issues and is not a substitute for individual consultation. Advice on individual problems should be obtained from your personal physician. This information is based on research by the author and represents his interpretation of the literature.

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Readers may send questions to our email address. This column is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional or medical advice.

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