Automotive seat belts save lives. And since most automotive accidents occur close to home (see https://www.progressive.com/newsroom/article/2002/may/fivemiles/, an old study but probably still valid), one should put on one’s seatbelt before the start of one’s trip. A simple reason for this is that the act of putting on one’s seat belt after one is in motion is well nigh suicidal. Why? Because it is usuälly almost impossible to both fasten the seat belt and drive safely. I am an expert on this, because I drove for some 20 years before seat belts became mandatory in the U.S., and the early years of one’s driving career embed themselves strongly in one’s habit. So, although I have improved because of yells of “put on your seat belt” from kids, grand kids, and wives, (and the knowledge that the seat-belt warning sound in my last car —a Toyota Pickup’ can drive you mad in a short time) I still, especially for short trips (which I realize are when accidents occur), sometimes neglect to fasten the thing.
If I then fasten the seat belt, my driving is severely impaired .Why? Because seat belts are often ridiculously difficult to fasten, considering that they have been required for almost 50 years. There are a number of reasons, such as these.
- The take-up reels usually wear after a few years of use, so the belts do not always retract – sometimes even being grabbed by the door when it is closed, but often requiring groping between the door and the seat.
- The sliding gizmo on the belt often slides out of sight between the door and the seat
- The receptacle for this sliding gizmo is often hidden in the upholstery, between the seat and the drive shaft tunnel, or between seats.
- The button location and design on the receptacle for the sliding gizmo is not standardized.
While battling these problems, especially in a strange car, the vehicle often weaves wildly down the road, while the driver valiantly tries to fasten the belt by feel while cursing, losing his/her temper, and otherwise exhibiting dangerous behavior. The worse situation often occurs when heading for the freeway in a rental car at night in a strange airport. And of course you all realize the difficulty of fastening the seat belt for the passenger seat in someone else's car.
Why do I not always fasten my belt before starting the car? Bad news – there are a lot of people like me, who learned to drive before driver’s training, who are often in a hurry when they climb in their car, who drive a number of automobiles, and who think they can simply grab the sliding gizmo and click it into place (usually not true).
It seems that after 50 years, the massive improvements in technology, and the achievement of autonomous vehicles, we could do a better job of figuring out seat belts. I remember that when I was in the air force, we had big wide combined shoulder and seat belts with a massive quick-release buckle holding them together. At this point I would prefer them over the set-up in my truck. Granted they were of drab color, and did not retract, but they were standardized, honest in function, and easy to find, since the shoulder harness straps were usually over the seat back and the seat straps on the seat.
As some of you may remember, when seat belts were a new thing, many manufacturers made them automatic, so that when the door closed, the shoulder harness would wrap around the driver or passenger. Granted that seat belts still had to be fastened by hand, but at least the shoulder belt was already in place and fastened. I kind of liked them. But but most drivers didn’t. The ancient video at https://jalopnik.com/5835426/this-is-why-we-dont-miss-automatic-seat-belts is an example of negative feelings. But come on – there has to be a better answer than what we now have.