Author: Angel Reyes  

Auto Accidents

Though the roads were less crowded, the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic led more drivers to engage in risky behaviors while driving, such as speeding, driving under the influence, and failing to buckle up. More than half of all crash fatalities in 2020 involved unbelted drivers and passengers– the highest level since 2012. 

Seat Belts Save Lives

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reminds us that wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying by 45% for front-seat passenger car riders and 60% for pickup truck riders who are more susceptible to rollovers.

The TxDOT Click It or Ticket program increased statewide seat belt usage from 76 percent in 2002 to 91 percent in 2019. However, seat belts were not embraced by every age group, as 41% of teen drivers killed in 2019 were not buckled.  

Seat Belt Statistics

Unfortunately, this year, we’ve seen what happens when travelers get careless—statistics from NHTSA.

  • Nationwide, 38,680 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020– an increase of 7% overall from 2019.
  • From 2019, miles driven dropped 13%, but the number of unbuckled car occupants killed jumped 15%.
  • In Texas, 1,073 Texans were not wearing seatbelts when they died in car accidents– up 16%.

Are Seat Belts Required by Law in Texas?

The Texas Senate passed a highly controversial mandatory seat belt bill in March 1985. Former Texas Senator Chet Edwards said, “I don’t believe people should be mandated to wear seat belts. At some point, the government has to draw the line and say adults have to make decisions for themselves.”

Even so, Texans can receive a $200 ticket for failing to buckle up. New drivers on the Graduated Driver License (GDL) Program could risk license suspension if they receive a seat belt citation. Texas is one of 34 states where law enforcement can pull someone over for failing to wear a seat belt as a primary offense. In states like Arizona and Vermont, drivers can be issued a ticket for not wearing one, but only if they’ve been pulled over for another infraction.

Seat belts are mandatory, whether you’re in the front or back seat, whether you’re a child or an adult. Children under eight years old must be in a child safety seat or booster until they’re taller than 4 feet 9 inches. Drivers face fines worth up to $250, plus court fees if they fail to properly restrain a child.

What Can Be Done About Rising Car Crash Deaths?

As reported by GM-Techlink.com, car manufacturers are stepping up to aid with enforcement. In 2019, Chevrolet expanded their “Teen Driver Mode” to include “Buckle to Drive,” which wouldn’t let drivers shift out of park unless properly belted. This feature will be included on the 2020 Colorado, Traverse, Malibu, and Canyon; the 2021 Equinox; and the 2022 Blazer, Silverado, and Sierra. Further, models will include the feature in 2023, including a requirement that the front passenger buckle up before driving. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that laws are toughening in places like Connecticut, where a bill was just signed requiring back-seat passengers over 16 to wear a seat belt as of October 1st. It will be a secondary offense– primary enforcement for the front seat has led to a 94% seat belt adoption rate. Massachusetts is considering a switch from secondary to primary enforcement. Colorado, a state where it’s a secondary offense for front-seat riders not to buckle, is running emotionally charged campaigns to appeal to the 14% of residents who defy conventional wisdom. They also handed out 2,000 tickets during their two-week “Click It or Ticket” campaign. New Hampshire– the “Live Free or Die” state– remains the only U.S. state where it’s perfectly legal to ride without a buckle.

Don’t Overlook How Seat Belt Use Affects Your Right to Sue

At Reyes & Associates, we also urge people to consider how their choice to buckle up or not may impact a potential car accident settlement if they survive a collision with a negligent driver. In 2015, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that failing to wear a seat belt can be used as evidence proving comparative fault.

While you can still most likely recover damages, the amount you can recover may be significantly reduced. If you have any questions about partial fault, contact a car accident lawyer in Dallas at Reyes and Associates for a free consultation.   

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