Road traffic accident (file image). F. P.
As Spain's latest fatal road accident figures are released, why are some people still reluctant to wear a seat belt?
Road safety

As Spain's latest fatal road accident figures are released, why are some people still reluctant to wear a seat belt?

According to the DGT data, 92 people died in accidents on Spain's main roads in May

Motor Channel


Wednesday, 12 June 2024, 11:27

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A total of 83 fatal accidents were recorded on Spanish roads in May in which 92 people died, latest data shows.

It's nine more fatalities than the same month last year, with traffic increasing by 6.3% compared to May 2023, with just over 39 million long-distance trips recorded. According to the national Directorate-General of Traffic DGT, eight of those killed were not using seatbelts at the time of the accident - seven of them were travelling in cars and vans and one was a motorcyclist who was not wearing a helmet. By age group, those with the highest increase in accident rates were those aged 65 and over.

Traffic authorities analysed the data and concluded: we use seat belts more than ever, but there are still victims on the roads who were not wearing them at the time of the accident.

Not using this safety device is a concern. No other automotive industry advancement has demonstrated such a life-saving capability. "The seat belt is still the foundation of safety in the car and what makes all other systems work. It has a dual function, it holds the occupant in the seat, but it also gives the airbag time to deploy. If the seat belt is not fastened or is not used correctly, when the vehicle impacts and brakes hard, the passenger will fly freely towards the dashboard, the steering wheel, the front seat or the windscreen... and that is a lottery," said Ignacio Lázaro, senior product manager of the restraint systems integration department of Applus Idiada.

Failure to wear a seat belt is still the fifth most frequent offence. In 2022 alone, 105,996 complaints were processed in this respect according to National Road Safety Observatory data.

That same data shed some light on the profile of the "non-compliant" in Spain. For example, we know that car users who were not wearing seat belts have the highest number of fatalities and hospitalised injuries, above other vehicles such as lorries and vans. We also know that the percentage of victims not wearing seat belts at the time of the accident increases with the age of the vehicle in which they are travelling. And that men are more likely than women not to wear it. In addition, and in line with US research, in 2022, two out of three drivers killed on interurban roads who were not wearing seat belts were also either speeding, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Why are people reluctant to wear a seatbelt?

Why people are reluctant to wear a seatbelt is one of the questions that have intrigued researchers since its inception in the last century. All kinds of scientific, statistical and psychological studies have been conducted to answer it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States published a report in 2019 on the psychological constructs related to seat-belt use and refusal. It listed the reasons why "non-compliers" claim not to wear seat belts. The most repeated responses were that the journey was to a nearby location or that they had forgotten to fasten their seatbelt.

In view of these results, the NHTSA requested in August last year that US car manufacturers equip their vehicles with seat belt warning systems for all occupants, a warning that has been mandatory in Spain since 2014 for the driver's seat and 2022 for the rear seats. NHTSA's analysis also warned of other types of excuses. Some claimed it was uncomfortable, they were in a hurry, they feared being trapped in the event of an accident and, the most reluctant group of all, those who said they didn't like being told what to do.

The agency found in its analysis that people in the latter group were particularly insensitive to seat-belt campaigns, especially if the message focused on risk, compliance or the penalty for non-compliance. In addition to refusing to wear seat belts, these users were more likely to break other rules, such as the speed limit.

"There are personal factors that limit the effectiveness of awareness campaigns in some drivers with a high level of impulsivity, a deficit of empathy, a poor capacity to respond to important events, a need for self-affirmation through risky behaviour, overestimation of their own capacity or a lack of tolerance to frustration," said Patricia Pérez Fernández, a DGT psychologist.

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