Seat Belt Use and Traumatic Brain Injury

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Because traumatic brain injuries cannot be cured in the traditional sense, preventive measures are the best weapons against them. And because the number-one cause of traumatic brain injuries among Americans who are less than 75 years old is auto accidents, one of the best ways to prevent a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is to always use a seat belt. Seat belts have consistently been shown to dramatically reduce deaths and injuries in auto accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that of those who were involved in fatal crashes in 2001, 73 percent who were wearing seat belts and 44 percent who were not wearing seat belts survived. And one 1997 study of traumatic brain injury patients in 14 states showed that 46 percent of the patients whose injuries were caused by motor vehicle crashes were not wearing seat belts

Why Wear A Seat Belt?

In the United States, only one state, New Hampshire, does not require adults to wear a seat belt. Many other states make exceptions to their seat belt requirements for children under a certain age, or for those sitting in the back seat of the car. While some Americans believe that using seat belts can actually increase a driver or passenger's risk of traumatic brain injury, because the head is not restrained with the body, there is no evidence to support this theory and some evidence against it. Similarly, some argue that seat belts make users less safe by trapping them in the car in case of an accident, rather than allowing them to be thrown clear. However, the NHTSA notes that in 2001, 75 percent of those who were completely ejected from a car during an accident were killed. One percent of those were using a seat belt.

Seat Belt Use and Costs of Traumatic Brain Injury

Not only can declining to use a seat belt increase the severity of an injury, but it also drives up the cost of treating that injury. In a six-year study, the government of Maine found that those who did not use a seat belt had longer hospital stays and higher bills than those who did use a seat belt. During that period, the study reported, 850 hospitalizations, with a cost of $17 million, could have been avoided altogether if the patient had been wearing a seat belt. Unbelted victims were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized or die from a head injury. And the crash victims who were ejected from their vehicles were 41 times more likely to sustain a serious or fatal brain injury than those who were not.

Proper Use of Seat Belts Can Reduce Risk of TBI

While seat belts can help prevent a traumatic brain injury, their effectiveness decreases when they are not used properly. Seat belts must be tightened to fit the individual using them. Two or more people cannot safely use the same seat belt. If the seat belt is old or frayed, it is not safe and should be replaced. And adults should ensure that children who are under 4'9" and about 80 pounds use the special equipment they need to be safe. Infants and children under 40 pounds need a properly sized, properly belted car seat; older children should use a booster seat until they are big enough to use adult-sized lap and shoulder belts. There is also mounting evidence that children shorter than 4'9" should not ride in the front seat at all, due to the risk of injury from passenger-side air bags.

If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury, you may wish to speak with an experienced . Your can help you assess your potential claim, access resources and even gain compensation for your injuries and the costs of future medical care.