Photo: Mostphotos, Viktor Koldunov


A recently released report by the OTI (Accident Investigation Board) delves into the impact of seatbelt use, or lack thereof, on fatal accidents. Between 2017 and 2021, 198 drivers and passengers in motor vehicle accidents lost their lives due to not wearing a seatbelt. According to assessments by traffic accident investigation boards, seatbelt usage could have saved 114 lives, and many others could have sustained less severe injuries had seatbelts been worn.

The OTI report, based on investigations conducted by traffic accident investigation boards from 2017 to 2021, analyzed a total of 642 accidents. The report focused on understanding the consequences of wearing or not wearing seatbelts in these accidents.

Seatbelts Prove Life-saving

In accidents involving cars and small vans, 310 occupants benefited from wearing seatbelts. Seatbelts saved 106 lives that would have otherwise been lost, and 204 individuals escaped with minor injuries or remained unharmed due to seatbelt usage. Seatbelts also proved vital in accidents involving heavy vehicles, saving eight truck or bus drivers from fatal outcomes. Additionally, 172 occupants of heavy vehicles sustained less severe injuries or remained uninjured due to seatbelt usage.

Potential for Saving Lives

Among the 198 fatalities in car and small van accidents, 114 lives could have been spared if seatbelts had been used. Furthermore, 43 out of the 55 individuals who sustained injuries in these accidents, despite not wearing seatbelts, could have experienced milder injuries or remained unharmed if they had worn seatbelts. In heavy vehicle accidents, seatbelts could have saved the lives of eight drivers, and 25 occupants might have sustained milder injuries or avoided injury entirely.

Seatbelt Usage Not Always Enough – Prevention Remains the Goal

In the accidents studied in the report, 278 drivers and passengers in cars and small vans lost their lives despite wearing seatbelts. A significant portion of those who died while wearing seatbelts were elderly individuals, whose bodies are less resilient to impact forces. Particularly severe accidents, even at urban speeds, can be fatal for the elderly, emphasizing the importance of accident prevention.

According to Esa Räty, OTI’s Traffic Safety Manager, "When an accident is severe enough and the direction of impact is unfavorable, even seatbelt usage might not always be sufficient. The bodies of the elderly withstand impact forces less effectively. Accidents at urban speeds can be fatal for the elderly, highlighting the importance of accident prevention."

Factors Contributing to Fatal Collisions

One-third of the involved parties in car and small van accidents did not use seatbelts. Among these, 70 percent of drivers and 72 percent of passengers were wearing seatbelts. The usage rates varied based on whether the vehicle causing the accident was also the one in which the victim was traveling. Drivers causing single-vehicle accidents were the least likely to wear seatbelts, with less than half (42 percent) using them. Single-vehicle accidents refer to accidents where no other parties are involved.

"Fatal collisions often involve various forms of risk-taking. Alongside neglecting seatbelt usage, common risks include driving under the influence, speeding, and inadequate driver health. If the driver doesn't wear a seatbelt, frequently, neither do the passengers," described Räty.

Enhancing Safety Measures

The report also provides key recommendations to promote seatbelt usage and enhance road safety:

  1. Preventing Risky Behavior: Measures to prevent behaviors such as driving under the influence and speeding can also reduce seatbelt neglect, as these risks often co-occur. Authorities need to address these issues through traffic control and healthcare interventions.

  2. Traffic Enforcement: Intensifying traffic enforcement, especially regarding seatbelt use and substance abuse, is essential.

  3. Vehicle Technology Advancements: Seatbelts should be linked to a vehicle's speed limiter, ensuring that the speed decreases if the seatbelt is not in use. Further development of seatbelt reminders and other systems ensuring seatbelt use is necessary.

  4. Education and Awareness: Efforts to raise awareness about the risks associated with not wearing seatbelts should continue. Education initiatives should also target professional drivers.

Kalle Parkkari, OTI's Traffic Safety Director, emphasized, "Increasing seatbelt usage is one of the key indicators measured by the European Commission to assess road safety. The results from Finland’s accident investigation confirm that promoting seatbelt usage significantly contributes to reducing traffic fatalities and severe injuries. In this effort, police enforcement is particularly effective, especially considering that those neglecting seatbelt usage might also be involved in other violations."

The report sheds light on the critical role seatbelt usage plays in saving lives on the road and underscores the need for continuous efforts to prevent accidents and promote safer driving habits.