Crash course: Perils of ignoring seat belts

Crash course: Perils of ignoring seat belts
Janeen Gordon trying out the crash simulator. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Janeen Gordon trying out the crash simulator. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Crashing at six to eight miles per hour can feel like 800 pounds of perspective.

That's exactly what you can experience in Max Maxwell's crash simulator. The former stunt driver and current owner/chief instructor of the Max Maxwell Driving School at the Memphis Agricenter rides his students through that ringer to give them a jolt of reality (and it really does jolt!).

"That's the feeling of a head-on collision, with a full harness on, at six to eight miles an hour. Take that hit and imagine 30 to 40 [miles per hour] with absolutely no seat belt on at all. It'll change your attitude a little bit," Maxwell said.

It's too late for the 10,355 unbuckled Americans who died in car crashes in 2013 (the most recent year of data available). All told, 21,132 people died in car crashes in 2013 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

That means 49 percent of all passengers who were killed in 2013 weren't wearing their seat belts. NHTSA revealed 61 percent of those unrestrained were between the ages of 13 and 34. The agency's data also indicated seat belts saved 12,584 lives ages five and up in 2013.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said unrestrained passengers bouncing around inside the vehicle increase the risk of injury or death to buckled passengers and drivers by 40 percent.

"I'm guilty of putting on my seat belt and even if my passenger doesn't put their seat belt on, I'm OK with it," WMC Action News 5 Traffic Tracker Janeen Gordon said.

Then she took a ride on Maxwell's crash simulator.

"After going through this, you cannot ride with me unless you have your seat belt on," Janeen said.

As if drivers need further incentive, Tennessee increased the fines for seat belt violations by both first-time and repeat offenders.

Effective 2016, the fine for first-time offenders increases from $10 to $25, and the fine for repeat offenders jumps from $20 to $50, per the Tennessee Department of Safety. The department's records revealed more than 300 Tennessee drivers died not wearing seat belts last year.

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