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My wife loves The Amazing Race. We end up watching it every Sunday. I have to admit, it is fun watching these teams race around the world. The contestants race each other around the globe and must complete a wide-range of challenges that test their endurance, intellect, and courage. Most of the time, it appears the producers of the show take great care to ensure the contestants' safety as they are scaling mountains, free falling off buildings, or performing other daring tasks. But what about safety when simply driving vehicles around the globe.

Last night's episode was sponsored, in part, by Ford Motor Company and the Ford Fusion. Contestants were provided new Ford Fusions to use in completing their challenges in Germany. Highlighted was the Fusion's new text-to-talk feature that allows drivers to multi-task while behind the wheel. Contestants are also interviewed on camera as they drive their vehicle down the equivalent of interstate highways – including Germany's Autobahn. This sort of distracted driving is dangerous enough, but truthfully, that's not the most critical safety problem that caught my attention last night.

Can you tell me what's wrong with this picture?

Joey and Meghan are racing across Germany without wearing their seat belts. Most drivers and passengers killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts. [Update: Upon closer inspection of this photograph, it appears that Meghan is wearing a seat belt, though it is tucked between her arm and torso – as is Katie's further below.] Seat belts dramatically reduce risk of death and serious injury – for front seat occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45% and reduce the risk of serious injury by half. Seat belts have saved tens of thousands of lives.

Source: CDC

Joey and Meghan weren't the only Amazing Racers who failed to use their seat belts.

In this image, you can see Beth wearing her seat belt while driving, but Mona appears to be completely unrestrained in the back seat. In a collision, Mona would a human projectile that would likely injure or kill Beth and/or be ejected from the vehicle.

Country singers Caroline and Jen (above) and hockey players Bates and Anthony (below) also appeared to be unrestrained while racing across Germany.

Seat belts save lives, but only if they're worn – and only then if they're worn properly. The only team that appeared to both wear seat belts racing across Germany, failed to wear the safety restraints correctly.

Katie – in the back seat – is wearing her seat belt incorrectly. She has the seat belt tucked between her arm and torso rather than running across her sternum and over her shoulder as it should be worn.

Most drivers never thing about proper seat belt fit (or seat belt geometry). Most simply assume that if the seat belt is around some part of the body and buckled securely, it will automatically protect you. That is incorrect. Seat belts must fit properly in order to be effective.

Three-point (lap/shoulder belt) restraints are far more effective at preventing injury than lap-belts alone. In fact, lap-belt only systems provide almost no restraint in a frontal collision and, in some cases, can cause worse injuries than if a seat belt was not used at all.

When driving long distances, it is often tempting to adjust your seat belt for comfort by incorporating some slack in the belt or even positioning the shoulder belt behind your back. However, these adjustments can make your seat belt completely ineffective and can cause severe injury in a collision.

The lap belt portion must fit snuggly across the body structures of your hips. For three-point (or lap/shoulder) belts, the shoulder portion must be snug against your chest and cross at your shoulder. A few vehicles on the road today are equipped with seat belts mounted inside the seat back itself (as opposed to mounted on the B- or C-pillar near the vehicle's door). These seat-mounted belts are known as "integrated seat belts" or "all bets to seat" and provide the safest fit and geometry.

When traveling, be sure to adjust your shoulder belt so that it fits properly. Never let the seat belt cross over your neck and never tuck the shoulder belt behind you or under your arm.

Bad Seat Belts Make Things Worse

Defective seat belts — those with bad geometry, poor fit or other bad designs — will make injuries worse in an accident. Most drivers simply assume putting a seat belt on automatically makes you safer. However, car companies have known for decades that poorly designed seat belts — like lap belt only designs or seat belts that do not fit correctly — will make injuries worse. Lap belt only designs cause the upper portion of your body to jack-knife forward in a frontal collision. Jack-knifing in this way will cause severe internal damage (likely to your liver, stomach or bowel) and may even break your back and sever your spinal cord, causing paralysis. Poor belt geometry will permit your torso to slam into the shoulder belt, causing severe damage to your heart and lungs. Geometry that permits the shoulder belt to cross at your neck may also lead to paralysis or death in even a minor frontal collision.

The Amazing Race – and especially Ford Motor Company – should be better role models for vehicle and highway safety. They should ensure the safety of their contestants and others on the highway by avoiding causing distractions for the racers and cease interviewing the contestants while they are driving and they should ensure the contestants wear seat belts – and wear them properly – while competing in the race. Contestants receive a 30-minute penalty for ignoring other rules and instructions. I would like to see at least a 30-minute penalty for failing to take proper safety precautions when not properly wearing a seat belt.

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© Copyright 2013 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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