Wearing a seatbelt is one of the most important ways for drivers and passengers to protect themselves. Proper use of a seatbelt is the most effective way to save lives and avoid severe injuries in motor vehicle collisions. When worn correctly, a seatbelt can reduce the chances of death in a collision by 47 per cent and the chances of serious injury by 52 per cent (Transport Canada’s Road Safety in Canada)
Seatbelt use has been mandatory in British Columbia since 1977, and in the years since seatbelt use became mandatory, serious injuries and fatalities have declined. Yet there continue to be many drivers and passengers each year who sustain severe injuries because they did not wear a seatbelt. In fact, the most recent ICBC statistics show that there are approximately 50 fatalities in British Columbia per year related to not using a restraint (seatbelt, lap belt, infant/child restraint system, or booster seat). As such, we decided that it would be valuable to discuss how seatbelts reduce injury and how failure to wear a seatbelt may have an effect on the amount of compensation in a personal injury claim. How seatbelts reduce injury When a vehicle decelerates very quickly (e.g., in a front-end collision) or accelerates very quickly (e.g., in a rear-end collision), a properly used seatbelt will lock up, holding you in place. Thus, seatbelts reduce the risk of injury in two key ways:
They prevent you from striking other objects or people in the interior of the vehicle; and
They prevent you from being ejected from the vehicle, which can often result in fatal injury.
Redistribution of force is what underlies the effectiveness of seatbelts. When a vehicle stops or speeds up suddenly – for example, due to a collision or during emergency braking – a huge amount of force is placed on everything inside the vehicle, including the driver and passengers. In a 50 km/h head-on crash, a 150-pound adult who is not wearing a seatbelt will collide with other occupants, strike the inside of the vehicle, or get thrown from the car with the same force as the weight of a 3½-ton truck. Seatbelts with a lap/shoulder restraint (one with a belt that goes across the lap and a belt that goes across the chest) help to reduce the effects of this force by distributing it across the strongest parts of your body – the chest and pelvis. Failure to wear a seatbelt may have an effect on your personal injury claim An otherwise faultless accident victim who failed to wear a seatbelt may receive reduced compensation in their personal injury claim – any British Columbia personal injury lawyer, Richmond to Prince George to Dease Lake, will know of that principle (it is known as a finding of “contributory negligence” based on the “seatbelt defence”). What the plaintiff-centred personal injury lawyers at Bronson Jones & Company LLP also know is that a reduction in compensation does not automatically apply where the accident victim failed to wear a seatbelt. For the seatbelt defence to apply, the defendant must prove that it was unreasonable in the circumstances for the accident victim to not wear a seatbelt and that the accident victim’s injuries would have been lesser had a seatbelt been used. If the defendant is not able to provide that evidence, the accident victim’s compensation will not be reduced for failing to wear a seatbelt. Motor Vehicle Accidents in Vancouver If you were injured in a motor vehicle accident while not wearing a seatbelt, contact Bronson Jones & Company LLP to discuss your claim with our experienced personal injury lawyers.