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Can Seatbelts Save You During a Car Crash?

  • Drive Safe-Safety

child-seat-belt-safetyApproximately 1.3 million people will be killed and another 20 – 50 million injured on the world’s roads this year according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

South Africa’s reported road fatality rate is 23.53/100,000 people against a global average of 17.47/100,000.

Road accidents are a major cause of death among all age groups and the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5–29 years.

The latest WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety states that wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of:

  • front seat occupant injuries and deaths by 45-50%
  • back seat occupants by 25%

Are seatbelts as important as experts say?

Car manufacturers Nash and Ford respectively introduced seatbelts as optional features in 1949 and 1955 followed by SAAB who introduced them as a standard feature in 1958. Experts agree that the decline in US car accident fatalities since the 1960s can be largely attributed to the introduction of seatbelts.




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  • 45% of fatalities or serious injuries
  • 20% of minor injuries
  • 50% of fatalities
  • 45% of serious injuries
  • 25% of minor injuries


  • 25% of fatalities
  • 25% of serious injuries
  • 20% of minor injuries

If you drive an older car that has lap belts only, it's advisable to replace them with today’s safer lap/shoulder belts. Ask your vehicle manufacturer about this.

The Mechanics of Seatbelt Safety

As part of the wider safety restraint system of airbags, seats, head restraints, and the car structure itself, innovative seatbelt systems feature:

  • Highly specialised durable, strong and flexible webbing that holds the occupant in place in case of accident or sudden stop
  • Anchor points where the greatest forces are exerted on impact
  • The retractor box containing:
    • seat belts when not in use
    • the spool and spring system that help the seat belt to unspool smoothly when pulled, and to re-spool automatically when released
  • The metal tongue (a flat tab) that slots into the buckle
  • The buckle that holds the tongue in place until the release button is pressed
  • Modern airbag deployment units determine if a seatbelt is worn. If not, the airbag will not deploy as an unrestrained occupant will crash into the airbag*;
  • A pyrotechnic pre-tensioner automatically “tightens” the seatbelt on impact

*Very small children should never sit in the front seats as the system might read the seat as unoccupied. The airbag must be disengaged if there is a baby seat, as it may trigger the system to read it as an occupant and deploy the airbag.

How do seatbelts prevent severe injury or fatality?

Seatbelt systems are designed to reduceinjury and death, but their ability to prevent this under all accident conditions is limited. During a typical frontal collision, your seatbelt:

  • Ensures you stay inside the vehicle during a car crash.
  • Prevents you from colliding with the dashboard, steering wheel, windshield or any other components of your car.
  • Disperses the force your body absorbs from the accident and applies that force to areas where your body is most durable.
  • Decelerates your body and prevents you from lurching forward.

In a not-too-severe collision scenario, the occupants decelerate slower than the vehicle and survive with only a sore chest. However, in a collision with a solid wall at 100 km/h or more, the human body cannot take the extreme deceleration and the impact on fragile internal organs could prove fatal.

When are Seatbelts not Effective?

Seatbelts focus on delayed or reduced deceleration, so avoiding injury or fatality depends on the type of collision.

  • In a side impact collision, there are just centimetres between the vehicle door or frame and the nearest occupant, who takes the full brunt, making the seatbelt ineffective as the seat is next to the point of impact. Seatbelts have little effect in side-impact collisions, unless it’s minor and on the far side.
  • In roll-over accidents, seatbelts keep the occupant in the seat (this is what the lap belt is for) but won’t protect occupants’ heads if the roof caves in.
  • Equally, if a heavy vehicle penetrates the cab of a lighter vehicle, the driver or occupants could be killed where they sit.

However, as most accidents are frontal collisions, seatbelts are the most reliable safety measure.

Should Children Buckle Up?

Road safety advocate Arrive Alive says US studies show seatbelts can prevent:

  • 75% of injuries in children under 4 years of age
  • 50% in those aged 4 -12,

whereas a child (as well as an adult) thrown from a car during an accident has a 75% chance of fatality.

Quoting the head of trauma at Cape Town’s Red Cross Children's Hospital, it claims trauma is the biggest killer of under-18s and most severe injuries in children are from car accidents.

In a collision in a car travelling at 80 km/h, an unrestrained child in the back seat becomes a projectile capable of decapitating front seat occupants. Children should not sit on an adult’s lap as the massive forces of gravity during an accident will rip the child from anyone’s grasp.

The Right Way to Buckle Up

  • Sit upright with back and hips pressed back against the seat to keep the belt secure with no slack
  • Pull the shoulder strap across your body, making sure the webbing isn’t twisted
  • The lap belt and shoulder belt are secured across the pelvis and rib cage, which are better able to withstand crash forces than other parts of your body
  • Place the shoulder belt across the middle of your chest and away from your neck.
  • The lap belt rests across your hips, not your stomach
  • Never put the shoulder belt behind your back or under an arm
  • Plug the tongue into the slot of the buckle until you hear it click

What SA law says about seatbelts

The South African Law on Seatbelts (Regulation 213 of the National Road Traffic Act) stipulates:

  1. It is compulsory for the driver and all passengers over the age of 14 or taller than 1.5 metres to wear a working South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) compliant seatbelt.
  2. Front seat belts must be 3-point while rear seat belts may be 2- or 3-point.
  3. Children of all ages, including babies, must be restrained in SABS approved restraints.
  4. Car and minibus drivers are liable for ensuring that seatbelts and restraints are worn by all passengers.

Supa Quick is driven to keep South Africans safe on the road. Visit one of the 200 tyre fitment centres near you for a free vehicle safety check.

Disclaimer:This information is for educational, or entertainment purposes only. The views expressed here are not that of Supa Quick. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information on this site is at your own risk. We will not be liable for any losses and damages in connection with the content on this site.


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