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Ask Joanne

Why would anyone refuse to buckle up their seatbelt? Add to ...

My husband refuses to wear a seatbelt. To rationalize this behaviour, he likes to mention the fact that school buses don’t have seat belts and that some American states don’t have belt laws for passengers riding in the back. I know that being buckled up is safer. What can I do to counter his idiocy and help keep him safe? – Irina in Port Hope, Ont.

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Seat belts have been well-proven to protect motor vehicle occupants, reducing the risk of moderate, critical and fatal injury up to 50 per cent for those travelling by car. For light-truck occupants, the risk is lowered by up to 65 per cent.

Belt use is at an all-time high, but detractors remain. According to a 2009-2010 Transport Canada survey, your husband is among the roughly 5 per cent of Canadians who don’t buckle up. The prospect of earning a ticket, fine and demerit points or possible injury and death isn’t enough to convince some people.

Transport Canada also found that willingness to belt-up is slightly lower among males, pickup truck drivers and those under age 25. Common excuses range from forgetfulness and discomfort, to a desire to avoid creasing clothes.

Airbags are another reason cited. Safety is optimized when airbags are used in conjunction with seat belts, but perhaps your husband needs to be reminded that airbags typically only deploy in moderate to severe crashes.

As for school buses, your hubby is correct – there is no belt requirement, though in terms of risk buses are miles from cars and light trucks.

“The comparison with school buses is not a valid comparison, because school buses are very large, heavy vehicles that do a very good job of protecting children even though they’re not belted,” says Russ Rader, spokesperson for the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“A comparison with cars just isn’t the same, because passenger vehicles get into many more crashes and they don’t have the bulk of a school bus to provide that kind of crash protection.”

As for the states with no adult rear-seatbelt law, the risk of personal injury persists.

“The laws of physics still apply when there’s a crash. If you’re not tied into the vehicle, then you continue moving forward at the speed the vehicle is going, increasing the likelihood of serious injury for the back-seat passenger, and also increasing the risk for people who are seated in the front. The back-seat passenger is going to fly forward in a crash and potentially injure people who are seated in the front,” says Rader, who adds that exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury or death to others in the vehicle by 40 per cent.

Talk to your husband and get to the bottom of his reason for not buckling up. If discomfort or poor fit is the issue, seatbelt extenders are available and, in many cases, adjustments can be made. Contact your dealer or manufacturer for more information.

If protecting himself from serious or fatal injury is not impetus enough to buckle up, tell your husband you don’t want to travel with the risk that, in the event of an accident, his mass will become a projectile.

Send your questions about automotive buying, maintenance and repairs to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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