Violence and Injury Prevention

Seat-belt celebrates its 50th birthday

This week the seat-belt celebrates is 50th birthday; it was on 13 August 1959 that the first automobiles fitted with three-point seat-belts left the factory floors in Sweden. The seat-belt has been credited with saving more than one million lives, and is widely considered among the most cost-effective public health interventions.

According to the recently released Global status report on road safety, wearing a seat-belt reduces the risk of a fatality among front seat passengers by 40-50% and among rear-seat passengers by 25-75%. Mandatory seat-belt laws, their enforcement and appropriate public awareness campaigns have been shown to be very effective in increasing rates of seat-belt wearing. However, according to the report, nearly 1 of every 4 countries for which data are available have a seat-belt wearing rate of less than 50%. Only 38% of low-income countries and 54% of middle-income countries require seat-belts to be used in cars by both front-seat and rear-seat passengers. Of the 59 countries that manufacture and assemble cars, 29% do not require seat-belts to be fitted in both front and rear seats. Given these statistics, there is clearly still much room for improvement. A manual developed by several members of the UN Road Safety Collaboration - Seat-belts and child restraints: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners - offers a practical guide to implementing, enforcing and evaluating seat-belt and child restraint programmes.

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