Health Team

Surgeon: Buckle Up for a Safer Ride

Posted May 17, 2007 3:24 p.m. EDT
Updated May 17, 2007 5:52 p.m. EDT

— Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among Americans up to age 44, killing about 35,000 people each year.

Studies have shown that wearing a safety belt could reduce fatalities and serious injuries by at least half. But almost 20 percent of Americans don't use seat belts.

In April, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine received critical injuries in a highway crash, while his driver, a state trooper, wore a safety belt and suffered only minor injuries.

Corzine, who wasn't strapped in, apologized for his poor example.

"It also demonstrates that, even though we know the facts, we sometimes ignore them," said WakeMed trauma surgeon Dr. Osi Udekwu.

People have many excuses for not wearing seat belts.

Some claim they don't need a seat belt because they are riding in the back seat of a car. But Udekwu said crash tests show unbelted passengers can become missiles in the vehicle, "injuring themselves and other occupants in the vehicle."

Another excuse is that seat belts aren't needed int cars with front and side airbags. Udekwu said the airbags are designed to protect  people who are already restrained inside the car.

Jan Parker, a certified child passenger safety instructor, said most parents strap their babies or children into special car carriers or seats.

"One of the most common problems is that they have problems locking it. It's not tight enough," Parker said.

She helps parents ensure the seat belt is secured as tightly as possible through child passenger seats. She also advises parents about the proper seat types and seating position, depending on the child's age.

For very young children, the seats should be rear-facing. As the child grows, the seat neats to be adjusted to a more upright position.

Some fire stations and police departments also serve as checking stations to help parents secure child seats and make sure the seat is age-appropriate.

For more information about child passenger seat safety and places where you can get help, visit