The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 139 police officers died when ejected from their vehicles in crashes between 1980 and 2008, and only 45 percent of the 733 officers who died in crashes during the period had their seat belts fastened, the Washington Post reports. An estimated 84 percent of U.S. drivers use their seat belts.
“We've been told it's 'I want to be able to get out of the car quickly, it interferes with my gun or it interferes with my belt, it interferes with my driving.' All the wrong reasons,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor who has studied high-risk police activities for more than 25 years. “I can understand if you're pulling up to a scene and you undo your seat belt because you want to be able to get out quickly, but not when you're going 100 miles an hour on the freeway.” Seat belts and air bags have made the high-risk pursuit of criminal suspects less deadly than it once was, but for more than a dozen years, traffic fatalities killed more police officers than bullets did. The trend was reversed last year, when the number killed by gunfire — 68 — was four more than the number who died in traffic incidents.