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Seat Belt Frequently Asked Questions

If I am driving and someone else does not want to wear a seat belt, could I get a ticket?
Yes. Virginia law requires everyone under age 18 to be properly secured in a safety belt or child safety seat no matter where they are sitting in the vehicle, and the driver is responsible for making sure this happens. In addition, Virginia law requires everyone in the front seat of vehicles to be properly restrained, regardless of age, and those 18 and older can be ticketed.
Even if I’m unbelted, aren’t I safe from death and injury during a crash if I’m in the back seat?
No, and you could kill your driver. Among rear seat occupants, seat belt use can reduce the risk of death by 60%. Additionally, multiple studies show the increased risk of death for those wearing seat belts when people in the back seat are not. One study by the Centers for Disease Control showed that the odds of driver death more than doubled in fatal frontal crashes when there were unrestrained rear-seat passengers.
I’m traveling a very short distance in my pick-up truck and there isn’t enough room for everyone in the cab. Is it OK for people to ride in the bed of the truck?
The bed of a truck is designed for cargo, not people. Every person riding in a motor vehicle must have a seat belt to protect them during a crash. Ejection almost always means death, and the surest way to prevent ejection is to wear a safety belt. Also, a short drive is no excuse not to buckle up. Research shows that most deadly crashes happen within 25 miles from home.
If I get into a crash with another car, won’t my large truck or SUV protect me?
No. Research shows people are more likely to die in unrestrained crashes in pick-up trucks versus unrestrained crashes in cars.
If I am traveling at slow speeds, won’t I be able to brace myself against the dashboard or steering wheel?
No. The force of the impact will increase your body weight to equal thousands of pounds of moving energy. This force is so great that you won't have the strength to brace against it. In addition, a crash surprises you, thus, you would not be prepared to brace yourself or anyone else. Also, most fatal crashes happen at less than 40 mph.
How do I know if the safety belt fits properly?
The shoulder belt should fit snugly across the center of the chest, never under the arm or behind the back. The lap belt should fit snugly and low across the hips, not across the stomach area. Seat belts should always be comfortable. If not, check your owner's manual, vehicle dealership or vehicle manufacturer for more information about use.
How do I know if the buckle is really locked in?
Always listen for the "click" when the buckle locks and give the belt a few extra pulls to be sure it's tight. If it doesn’t lock securely every time, check your owner's manual or with your dealership to make sure the buckle operates correctly. In some cases, seat belts may need to be replaced.
Is it true that insurance companies will not cover injuries if seat belts weren’t worn during a crash?
Many insurance companies do not cover injuries, and some life insurance companies will not pay full benefits, if the injured or deceased person was not wearing a seat belt. Check with your insurance company for specific details.
How do airbags work?
Airbags work by preventing your upper body from striking the steering wheel, dashboard and windshield in a collision. A sensor is activated when the car strikes a solid object. This sensor sends an electric current, initiating a chemical release of a harmless gas that inflates the airbag.
What happens after an airbag deploys?
The airbag automatically deflates as the gas escapes through vents in the airbag. Airbags can’t smother people, and don't restrict movement after a crash. Airbag inflation and deflation takes less than one second. Airbags are single-use safety restraints and can’t be reused. Airbags should be replaced by an authorized repair facility before driving the vehicle again.
Is steering wheel position important when considering airbags?
Yes. Tilt the steering wheel toward your breastbone. Do not tilt it toward your abdomen or toward your head and neck. Try to adjust your seat at least 10 inches away from the center of the steering wheel.
Why is it illegal in Virginia to have rear-facing child safety seats in the front seat?
It is safer for children 2 years and younger to travel in a child safety seat in the back seat of a vehicle. If there is no back seat and the child safety seat is in the front seat, the airbag must be off.
I know that all children under age 12 should ride in the back seat, especially if the car is equipped with airbags. What about older folks? Are they safe with airbags?
The elderly, like all other passengers and drivers, should be properly restrained with the seat as far back as possible, and the individual's back firmly supported. Know where the airbags will deploy and keep arms and feet away from this area.
Are airbags equipped with on-off switches?
Many of today’s vehicles are equipped with front passenger seat sensors that automatically turn the airbag on or off, depending on the weight in the seat. If the weight is heavy enough to safely withstand an airbag deployment, it automatically turns on. However, older model vehicles without sensors may require you to deactivate the airbag when:
  • There is no back seat and the child safety seat is in the front seat,
  • A medical or other condition outweighs the advantages of airbags, or
  • When the driver is unable to sit at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel.
Is it true that some airbags release smoke? If so, is this a fire hazard?
Up until recently, nontoxic cornstarch or talcum powder was commonly used to lubricate airbag fabrics and aid in deployment. While these lubricants may sometimes appear to be "smoke" when released during deployment, they are actually harmless substances. Most of today's airbag fabrics and coatings are silicone and are sufficiently "slippery" that additional powder-like lubricants aren't necessary. Exceptions include some heavily-coated side curtain airbags developed for rollover crash protection; these airbags may still be lubricated with talcum powder, which could potentially appear as "smoke" when inflated.