Pickup Truck Accidents Higher Rate of Death For Occupants Not Wearing Seatbelts: NHTSA Report

Nearly half of people killed in car accidents in 2021 were not wearing seatbelts, with unrestrained pickup truck occupants most likely to die unbelted.

Federal highway safety officials report that the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents involving individuals who were not wearing seatbelts is the highest it has been in ten years, and that unbelted occupants involved in pickup truck accidents appear to face the highest risk of dying.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released data this week on 2021 occupant protection in passenger vehicles, finding that of the 26,325 passenger vehicle occupants who died in accidents that year, 11,813 of them – almost 50% –  were not restrained by seatbelts.

Officials have not reported unrestrained vehicle crash death numbers that high in a decade.

According to the report, at least 60% of occupants involved in a pickup truck accident who were killed in 2021 were not wearing a seatbelt, a significantly higher number than occupants in all other types of passenger vehicles, including SUV drivers, passenger car drivers, and van drivers.

Accident Fatalities on the Rise

The new report comes as the NHTSA is attempting to reduce a record surge in auto accident fatalities. A comprehensive overview of motor vehicle traffic crashes was released by the agency in April, indicating that deaths caused by car accidents in 2021 marked the largest increase in 20 years.

Such a dramatic rise in car accident deaths has been linked to riskier driver behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic, including speeding, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and failure to wear seatbelts.

Unrestrained Pickup Truck Occupants Have Been At Higher Risk For Decades

Unbelted pickup truck occupants have been considered a high risk demographic for fatal car accidents for over 20 years, the NHTSA noted in a press release. However, the agency stressed that the new statistics are especially concerning.

According to the data, 60% of pickup truck drivers and 64% of pickup truck passengers killed in car crashes in 2021 were not wearing seatbelts. Comparatively, 49% of SUV drivers killed in a 2021 car crash were unrestrained, 47% of passenger car drivers killed in a 2021 car crash were unrestrained, and 44% of van drivers killed in a 2021 car crash were not wearing seatbelts.

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“Putting on your seat belt only takes two seconds, but it can save your life,” the NHTSA said in the press release. “Your seat belt is your best protection against serious or fatal injuries in a crash – and wearing your seat belt is the law in most states. Whether you’re in the front seat or the back, use your seat belt on every trip, every time.”

Click It or Ticket

In conjunction with the report’s release, the NHTSA announced the kick-off of its annual Click It or Ticket campaign, emphasizing the importance of seatbelt use, especially to historically high risk demographics like pickup truck occupants.

The campaign includes a nationwide media blitz of digital, social media, and radio messaging as well as increased enforcement of seat belt laws from May 22 through June 4.


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