Recently, an Alabama teen was killed and three others injured in a single-vehicle crash in which the 24-year-old driver struck a utility pole. Investigators say none of the vehicle occupants were wearing seat belts.
Failure to wear a seat belt is a violation of Alabama law, and it’s one a recent report indicates is a growing problem. According to AL.com, authorities issued more than 42,000 traffic citations for drivers not wearing seat belts in 2013, and that same year, nearly 60 percent of all those who died in car accidents weren’t buckled up.
Alabama accident attorneys are concerned about this trend because there is no doubt: Seat belts save lives.
However, it is worth noting Alabama is one of 31 jurisdictions that have soundly rejected the so-called “seat belt defense.” The seat belt defense holds that damages to which plaintiff in a crash are entitled may be reduced due to failure to wear a seat belt. This assertion grants plaintiffs the right only to recover damages they would have suffered had they been wearing a seat belt, as opposed to actual damages.
The difference can be stark, especially if the defense provides compelling expert witness testimony to this point. The argument falls under the theory of comparative negligence. Under Alabama’s tort law, which follows a pure contributory negligence standard, the existence of any negligence on the part of the plaintiff will bar his or her chances of recovery. So it’s a good thing this legal theory has been rejected.
That doesn’t mean drivers or passengers should take chances.
Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of unintentional injury and death across all age groups, resulting in more than 30,000 deaths each year and 2.2 million injuries. More than half of those killed were not wearing their seat belts, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). It’s estimated that when properly used, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent. It also reduces the severity of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent for all passengers.
People may think they are safe with the protection provided by an airbag. However, airbags only work to protect passengers who are properly belted.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates seat belts save an average of 13,000 lives a year. From 1975 through 2008, it’s believed the devices saved an estimated 255,000 lives. And yet, it’s estimated 1 in every 7 people still don’t buckle up. If everyone wore seat belts, it’s believed some 4,000 traffic deaths annually could be prevented.
Alabama’s seat belt law is fairly lax, which could be part of the problem. Statute requires anyone in the front seat of a moving vehicle to wear a safety belt or risk a $25 fine. Passengers in the back seat are not required to wear a seat belt, unless they are under the age of 15. Child passengers up to 6-years-old must be properly strapped in to a size-appropriate restraint system.
Contact the Mike Slocumb Law Firm at 1-800-HURTLINE or visit www.slocumblaw.com.