It’s no myth that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of thebusiest of the year for any and all modes of travel, which alsoincreases the potential for more motor vehicle accidents.

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The U.S Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic SafetyAdministration (NHTSA) wants everyone to buckle up when drivingbecause seat belts do save lives and provide the best defenseagainst injury or death in a crash.

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According to NHTSA, in 2013 (the latest statistics available),there were 21,132 passenger vehicle occupants (in passenger cars,pickup trucks, vans or SUVs) killed in traffic crashes in theUnited States. Almost half of those killed — 49% — were not wearingseat belts.

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Here are six tips on using seat belts correctly, especially forpregnant women. These tips apply whether you’re driving your owncar or a rental.

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Young-man-with-beard-driving-pick-up-truck-no-seat-belt-crop-ThinkstockPhotos-459162083-Dimedrol68

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(Photo: Thinkstock)

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1. Buckling up is the single most effective thing youcan do to protect yourself in a crash.

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During a crash, being buckled up helps keep you safe and secureinside your vehicle whether you’re in the front seat or the back.If you’re ejected from a vehicle in a crash, the odds are that youwill not survive. In 2013, almost eight out of 10 (79%) ofthe people totally ejected from vehicles in crashes were killed.Only 1% of occupants wearing seatbelts were ejected in crashes,compare with 31% of those who were unrestrained.

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Men are more likely than women to be unrestrained in fatalcrashes. Of the male passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashesin 2013, 54% of the male passenger vehicle occupants killed incrashes were unrestrained compared to 41% for femalepassengers.

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According to NHTSA, young people are most often victims of fatalcrashes — usually as a result of not using a seatbelt. Among thepassenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2013, occupantsages 21–24 were unrestrained at a rate of 55%, followed byoccupants ages 16–20 at a rate of 50% unrestrained.

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Crashes at night are more deadly than those during the day,NHTSA says. Over the 2013 Thanksgiving weekend, 64% of passengervehicle occupants killed in crashes at night were unbuckled,compared to 48% during the day.

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(Photo: Thinkstock)

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2. Use the seat belt correctly.

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The correct way to wear a seat belt is to secure the lap beltand shoulder belt across your pelvis and rib cage, which are moreable to withstand crash forces than other parts of your body.

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Never put the shoulder belt behind your back of underyour arm. If you can’t use the seat belt correctly, talk to yourcar dealer or mechanic to find a seatbelt strap adjuster that fitsyour needs.

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If you’re pregnant, you should still wear a seat belt. The beltshould lay across your chest, between your breasts and away fromyour neck. You should secure the lap belt below your belly so thatit fits snugly across your hips and pelvic bone.

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(Photo: David Goldman/AP Images)

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3. Use appropriate car seats for children.

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Remember that children don’t fit in adult seat belts. Theyshould always ride in approved car seats that are designed fortheir age and size.

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If you’re not sure whether your child’s car seat fits correctlyor is safe to use, you can refer to the guidelineson the NHTSA website.

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The website also provides information on choosing a car seatthat’s easy to use as well as safe.

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Related: Correctly used child safety seats reduce fatalities by as much as71%

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(Photo: Shutterstock)

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4. Air bags are designed to work with seat belts, notreplace them.

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If you don’t wear your seat belt, you could be thrown into arapidly deploying front air bag. The force of the movement couldinjure or kill you.

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Many pregnant women are concerned about the force of the impactfrom an air bag that is inflating quickly and disable the airbag.Doctors generally recommend that pregnant women continue to wearseat belts and leave air bags turned on. Together, the seat beltsand air bags still provide the best protection for pregnant womenand their unborn babies.

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With all the publicity recently about defective air bags, talkto your car dealer about your specific vehicle, or check theNHTSA’s recallwebsite to find out whether your car’s air bag has beenrecalled. If so, try to have it replaced before taking a long tripfor the Thanksgiving holiday.

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Related: U.S. says Takata air bag recalls may widen to morecarmakers

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Young-woman-getting-ready-to-test-drive-car-crop-ThinkstockPhotos-512545975-michaeljung

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(Photo: Thinkstock)

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5. Seat belt fit matters.

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When you’re buying a new vehicle and looking at the shinyfeatures such as satellite radio and back-up cameras, check to seethat its seat belts are a good fit for you, NHTSA says. Ask yourdealer about seat belt adjusters, which can help you get the bestfit.

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If you need a roomier belt, contact your vehicle manufacturer toget seat belt extenders. Yes, they’re available for cars as well asairplanes.

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Some older or classic cars have lap belts only, but you may beable to retrofit your vehicle with a newer lap and shoulder beltcombination.

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Woman's-feet-in-high-heels-on-accelerator-crop-ThinkstockPhotos-184633862-JordanSimeonov

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(Photo: Thinkstock)

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6. Adjust the seat, the gas pedal or both.

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Everyone should drive with the front seat as far back aspossible, but make sure you can still comfortably reach the pedals.Short people might have to look into a gas pedal extender that willallow you to keep at least 10 inches between the center of yourchest and the steering wheel cover or dashboard.

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If you’re pregnant, continue to adjust the seat as your abdomengrows during pregnancy to maintain the 10-inch minimum.

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When you’re heading over the river or through the woods toGrandma’s house for Thanksgiving, be sure to buckle up.

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Related: 20 cities with America’s best drivers

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Rosalie Donlon

Rosalie Donlon is the editor in chief of ALM's insurance and tax publications, including NU Property & Casualty magazine and NU PropertyCasualty360.com. You can contact her at [email protected].