If you experience a motor vehicle accident and suffer a serious injury as a result, then the logical next step is to file a personal injury claim either with your insurance company or against the at-fault party. Many factors can affect the outcome and overall complexity of a personal injury claim, though, including your decision of whether or not to wear a seat belt.
By learning more about how wearing a seatbelt affects your personal injury claim, as well as other aspects of your life, you can make the best decisions as you move forward after a car accident.
How Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affects Your Personal Injury Claim
If you decide to file a personal injury claim, Massachusetts comparative negligence law may take effect in regard to an accident in which you do not wear your seatbelt. Comparative negligence, sometimes known as contributory negligence or fault, is a principle that reduces the damages you may recover in your personal injury claim if the court finds you to be partially at fault for an incident that causes you injury.
Though the decision of whether or not to wear a seat belt is not likely to increase your likelihood of causing an accident, an investigation may bring to light that not wearing a seat belt contributes to the circumstances surrounding your injuries. Not wearing a seat belt is a decision you consciously make yourself and not something imposed upon you by the negligence of another driver, creating a situation in which comparative negligence applies.
The insurance company might assert that your injuries might be less severe or even nonexistent if you made the decision to wear a seat belt at the time of the accident. Insurers aim to protect the company’s own bottom line and will use any example of dangerous behavior, including not wearing a seat belt, as a reason to lower the amount they must pay out to you.
The Personal Risks of Not Wearing a Seatbelt
It goes without saying that seat belts are present in all vehicles to protect the safety of drivers and other occupants. Not wearing a seat belt can invite a heightened risk of personal injury. The belt serves to restrain occupants from ejections that might otherwise occur during sudden collisions, as well as to spread the force of a crash across the body so that no one area sustains excessive damaging trauma.
In addition to possibly affecting the resulting personal injury claim that you might file afterward, not wearing a seat belt can yield a higher chance of sustaining certain serious injuries including:
- Traumatic brain injuries typically resulting from blunt trauma when the head impacts the windshield or pavement
- Facial injuries, knee trauma or road rash that can also occur following a bodily impact with the pavement
- Broken bones or spinal cord injuries that may be the result of direct force or extreme stress on certain body parts, sometimes resulting in paralysis in extreme cases
- Amputations that become necessary if an infection occurs after sustaining lacerations from exposed metal edges
It is important to remember that because these types of injuries can be more likely to occur for individuals who do not wear seat belts, the comparative negligence law may apply to your personal injury case.
Seat Belt Safety Statistics
A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that seat belts saved 14,955 lives in 2017 and could have saved an estimated 2,549 more people if they chose to use seat belts. The NHTSA also reports a 91.6% national usage rate of seat belts in 2022, showing that the vast majority of people do acknowledge the efficacy of seat belts and choose to use them accordingly.
Research from the National Safety Council makes another case for the safety benefits of seat belts. According to the NSC, 61% of vehicle occupants between the ages of 25 and 34 killed in car accidents in 2020 were also unrestrained by seat belts. While seat belts can always create safer driving conditions, data from the NSC also shows that unrestrained deaths are more common at night.
If you find yourself wondering just how effective seat belts actually are when it comes to preventing injury, these figures illustrate that there is a non-coincidental correlation between lives saved and seat belt usage.
Does Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affect Insurance Rates?
Insurance providers typically charge more for coverage when it comes to consumers who are statistically more likely to experience a dangerous situation. Auto insurers might interpret the act of not wearing a seat belt as an indication that an individual is reckless and therefore more likely to file a claim.
An officer may issue you a traffic violation and ticket you for not wearing a seat belt. This violation is visible on your driving history or motor vehicle record, which insurers will view when determining your rates or when considering a rate increase. Traffic violations are indirect measures of an individual’s riskiness as an insurance customer, so it is not uncommon to experience a rate increase after an officer tickets you for not wearing a seatbelt.
If you suffer injuries in an accident due to not wearing a seatbelt, it is not likely that the insurance company will take notice of your lack of a seat belt unless a traffic violation goes into effect as a result. However, your insurance rates are very likely to increase if you are fully or partially at fault for the accident. Though different insurance policies may vary, an accident can continue to affect your insurance rates for as many as five years.
Other Reasons You Should Wear a Seat Belt
Aside from protecting yourself and your occupants from harm, it is also important to buckle your seat belts because Massachusetts law requires it. Not wearing your seat belt is an offense warranting a ticket and entails a fine of $25.
Failing to wear a seat belt is a secondary traffic offense in Massachusetts, meaning that an officer can not pull you over simply for not wearing your belt. There must be a primary violation in progress to warrant a traffic stop. Even so, keep in mind that accumulating multiple violations on your record in a three-year period can lead to more severe penalties including driver’s license suspension or revocation.
Another important reason to wear your seatbelt is to set a good example for the other occupants of your vehicle, particularly children. Even as seat belt reminder systems become more effective in newer car models, younger occupants may only be likely to build safe habits if the adults in their lives are equally diligent in prioritizing safety.
What Should I Do After a Car Accident?
It is always a good idea to contact an attorney early on in the personal injury claim process, especially if you are not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.
Even when the other party is clearly at fault or guilty of negligent behavior such as violating traffic laws or texting and driving, complications may arise during the claims process or during discussions with the insurance company. These complications can threaten your ability to secure the compensation you deserve and may be more likely to occur if it comes to light that you were not wearing a seatbelt.
The Jason Stone Injury Lawyers team is here to help you get a favorable outcome during a difficult time. Call today for a free consultation.