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Even if your vehicle has top marks for safety and reliability, you’re always at risk for a crash while behind the wheel. Wearing a seat belt is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths while driving. Not only will buckling up keep you safe, but it will also prevent you from getting a fine if pulled over by a police officer.

How well do seat belts actually protect the occupants of your vehicle? The Road Safety Observatory recently conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of seatbelts over time. The study details how big of a factor seat belts were in protecting passengers from injury, as well as how well the restraints worked in different types of accidents.

Front-seat and rear-seat protection results

In the U.S., the study found that the three-point seat belts in the front seats offered the most protection in head-on collisions, with up to 50% fewer injuries or fatalities. The lap belts gave drivers the most protection during rollover accidents, with 74% less fatal injuries. Seat belts got an overall injury reduction rating of 60% in trucks and 45% in passenger vehicles.

In rear seats, the overall effectiveness of the seat belts proved to be lower, possibly due to the fact that the vehicles included in the study didn’t have the three-point seat belts in the backseat. These belts were shown to have a 26% reduction in serious injuries.

More safety options

In addition to reliable seat belts, many modern cars have a variety of other safety features that can protect you in an accident. If the collision impact is heavy enough, airbags can deploy from the steering wheel and doors of your vehicle. These prevent you from hitting the windshield, dashboard, or objects crashing through the side of the car. Because they could potentially endanger young children, smaller passengers should always be securely buckled up in the backseat.

Every passenger vehicle has an anti-lock brake system (ABS), which keeps your brakes from locking up when you have to slow down at a short notice while driving at high speeds, such as an accident on the highway. Some even feature brake assist, which can detect how hard the driver pressed down on the brake pedal and allow the ABS to be triggered faster. There are two types of ABS: two-wheel, which monitors the two rear wheels of your vehicle, and four-wheel that controls both the front and rear wheels.

Vehicles with all-wheel drive have powertrains that provide equal strength to each of the wheels of your car. This works especially well when used with traction control, which can keep your wheels from slipping during acceleration or when driving on rocky terrain. Some cars also have electronic stability control, a system that can sense extreme steering maneuvers and prevents you from losing control of your vehicle in panic situations.

How seat belts are more effective than ever

In the ’60s and ’70s, passengers only had lap belts and the standard three-point seat belt that we still use today. The study found that only 20% of the car’s occupants actually used seat belts, possibly due to the fact that they were legally voluntary until 1984. Restrained passengers had a 60-73% lower fatality rate and a 41-53% lower rate in minor injuries.

Nowadays, seat belt design has been greatly improved for the safety of the car’s passengers. Pretensioners were introduced that can lock your seatbelt in place during an accident, and front straps are now highly adjustable. Many cars now have a seat belt reminder, which will issue both audible and visual alarms when it detects that seat belts are not fastened.