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Defensive Driving Tip 4 – Safety Belts and Air Bags

Defensive Driving Tip 4:

Passenger Safety Equipment


Modern vehicles come with all kinds of safety equipment to make the driver and passengers safer in the event of a collision. Safety belts, air bags, child safety seats — all with years of research behind their construction.

But these safety devices will only help you if you use them properly.



Why do we talk about safety belts? Many students tell us that safety belts have technically nothing to do with defensive driving. Actually, they have everything to do with defensive driving. Sure, not wearing you seatbelt doesn’t cause accidents, but they do prevent serious injury and death, not to mention the fact that it is the law.

Imagine the whiny voices: “It’s so-o-o uncomfortable!” “It wrinkles my clothes!” “It rubs against my neck!” “I have airbags. Why do I need to wear a seatbelt?”

Of course, these complaints come from those people who have probably never been in a serious accident. They are drivers whose heads have never hit the windshield or dashboard. People who have never had their chest crushed by the steering wheel. People who’ve never been ejected from a moving car.

If you think seat belts are uncomfortable, consider what you could be wearing instead.

Yes, safety belts may be a little uncomfortable and might wrinkle your clothes a tad, or rub against you, but look at the alternative. Since the advent of the seatbelt, literally millions of lives have been saved and millions of injuries have been decreased because of them. Did you know that you’re twenty four times more likely to die in an automobile accident if you’re not properly restrained? The instructors at Comedy Guys Defensive Driving spend quite a lot of time discussing safety belts and child restraints. Passenger restraints are preventative medicine. They, along with your car’s safety cage, are what keep you from being seriously injured or killed when you’re involved in an automobile accident.

But even once we give them the fact, some people still whine. “I’m a good driver.” “I drive too slowly to get into a serious collision.” “I’ve never been even close to being in a car crash ”.

If that’s true, then you are a very lucky individual. The chances of getting out of this life without being involved in some sort of automobile accident are slim indeed.

In the state of Texas, the seatbelt law states that EVERYONE, front and back seats, must be buckled in.

Before September 2009, there was an exception for people over the age of seventeen riding in the back seat, but now everyone is required to use a passenger restraint unless they drive or ride in a moving vehicle that does not have them, such as a bus or an older model car.

Driving or riding without a safety belt is a ticketable offense. Depending upon the age of the passenger, two tickets can be written. Usually if the passenger is under sixteen years of age, the driver will receive the ticket. If the passenger is over sixteen years of age, they will receive a ticket…and so will the driver. If the driver has two passengers not wearing their safety restraints, the driver can receive a citation for each one. This is meant to make the driver responsible for those in his car, so make sure everyone is buckled in.

The old law stated that people over the age of seventeen didn’t have to wear them in the back seat, but now everyone is required to use a passenger restraint unless they drive or ride in a moving vehicle that does not have them, such as a bus or an older model car.

What many drivers don’t understand about automobiles is that everything inside the car is traveling as fast as the car itself. If you hit another car or perhaps a wall or telephone pole, and you’re only going twenty miles an hour, you have to remember that everything inside the car is moving forward at twenty miles an hour. If you think that 20 mph is not much, then try this: Find a brick wall somewhere, stand about fifty feet from it, and then run towards it as fast as you can and slam your body into it. Most people sprint at less than 20 mph, so this will show you first hand how much a 20 mph collision can hurt.

Many people use the excuse that they have airbags, so why must they wear a safety belt? Airbags are not a substitute for safety belts. Airbags are an extra safety device, designed to work with your safety belts. The belts keep you in your seat, instead of slamming into the steering wheel or flying through the windshield. The air bags are there to surround your seat with soft landing places.



Laws differ from state to state. In Texas, the law requires that any child under 8 years of age be restrained in an approved child passenger safety seat unless the child is taller than four feet, nine inches in height. (If you have a seven year old that’s 4’9’’, get them a basketball and an agent!)

The fine is no more than twenty five dollars for the first offense, but you may get slapped with $250 for the second offense. So if you have two children unrestrained and it’s your second offense, you could get walloped with a nice 500.00 fine.

But more important than the fine is the risk you take — and force your children to take — when you don’t put them into an approved child safety seat.

Remember the part about objects in the car are moving forward as fast as the car itself? Well, when the car and its occupants are rolling along at 35 mph, then the car and each of the occupants has forward momentum. The car may stop suddenly when it crashes into another car, but the passengers still have their momentum going, and they’re going to fly forward at 35 mph until they crash into something that stops them. Suddenly your fussy six-year-old who didn’t want to sit in the car seat is now a projectile weapon, flying head first into the back of the front seat. There’s no way this is going to end well.

According to a 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention,
children under age 2 are 75% less likely to die or be
severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.

In March of this year, The American Academy of Pediatrics and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published new car-seat recommendations, designed to keep your children even safer. In these new guidelines, it is more important to focus on the child’s height and weight, rather than their age, when deciding to move them up to the next seat. In other words, make these decisions based on the scales and the tape measure, not by the calendar.

  • Rear-facing Seat — Because of added protection against head, neck and spine injuries, it is recommended that young children ride facing the rear of the vehicle as long as possible, until they absolutely outgrow the rear facing seat. Following older guidelines, most parents turned the safety seat around on the child’s first birthday, but now seats exist that will let children ride backward through their second birthday or beyond. Check the height/weight recommendations for your rear-facing seat to know its limitations.
  • Forward-facing Seat with a Harness — Again, once your child has completely outgrown the rear-facing seat and moved to being strapped into a forward-facing seat, leave them here until they exceed the height and weight limits of the seat.
  • Booster seat with car seatbelt — The whole purpose of the booster seat is to raise the child up enough that the vehicle’s seatbelt fits their body properly. This means keeping the child in the booster seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. Older recommendations set the limit at 4′ 9″ OR eight years old, but – again – age is less important as a deciding factor than is the child’s height.
  • Back seat with a seat belt — Children should ride in the back seat, using the vehicle’s safety belt, until they are at least 60 inches tall. Once they’ve reached that height, they can more safely sit in the front seat and be protected by air bags. For a child under 60 inches tall to sit in the front seat creates too great a risk of injury should the air bags open in a collision.

If by now, you haven’t figured out that safety belts and child restraints are important, then you shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car anyway.