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DOT Seeks to Require Rear-Seat Seat Belt Reminder Systems

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PassengerThe U.S. Department of Transportation could issue a final rule within three years that would require all new vehicles to have seat belt reminder systems for rear seats, as Kelsey Mays writes in an August 2 article on the Cars.com blog Kicking Tires. She writes that a bill containing that provision passed Congress on July 2. Front seats have had reminder systems since the 1970s.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, passengers not wearing seat belts become projectiles in accidents, increasing the risk of injury or death to other occupants, even those wearing seat belts, Mays writes. “A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey released in early 2009 [PDF] found those in the rear buckle up 74% of the time, compared with 83% for those up front,” she notes.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for all Americans in the first three decades of their lives; and in 2009 alone, crashes killed more than 33,000 people and injured another 2.2 million, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes in an article titled “Policy Impact: Seat Belts.” More than half of the people killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, according to “Traffic Safety Facts: Highlights of 2009 Motor Vehicle Crashes” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as CDC reports.

Although seat belt use has been increasing, about one in seven people still do not buckle up, according to the CDC. The District of Columbia and 49 states require front-seat occupants to wear seat belts, but 24 of those states do not require adults in back seats to do so, Mays writes. Colorado, while requiring front seat occupants to be buckled up, does not require adults in rear seats to wear seat belts, reports Noah Klug in a July 25 column in SummitDaily.com. Colorado does require drivers to ensure that children in their vehicles are properly secured in car seats or booster seats or are wearing seat belts, with varying specific requirements depending on a child’s age and weight, Klug writes.

Mays writes that a rear seat belt reminder law could help prevent tween and teen injuries and deaths especially:

Unbelted backseat occupants are a ‘significant’ problem, IIHS [Insurance Institute for Highway Safety] spokesman Russ Rader said, noting that backseat passengers wearing lap and shoulder belts face a 44% lower risk of fatal injury in cars and 73% lower risk in vans and SUVs. But teenage passengers are at particular risk. NHTSA noted that teens buckle up far less frequently than adults, with some 20% of teens and young adults going unbelted in a 2008 study. In 2009, 56% of 16- to-20-year-olds involved in fatal accidents were unbuckled.

‘The backseat riding rate is high in those age groups, but the restrain usage rates are very low,’ said safety advocate Joseph Colella, who consults for Traffic Safety Projects near Washington, D.C. ‘We’re not making progress with the tweens and teens the way we are with other groups.’

There are some new cars that already have systems to remind rear-seat passengers to wear their seat belts, such as the Volvo S60 and the Chevrolet Volt, Mays writes. And in a related topic, recent news reports say that Mercedes-Benz will be adding Beltbag airbags for rear seat belts. As John Neff writes for Autoblog, Mercedes is not the first to do so. Ford Explorer and Lexus LFA models came out with seat belt airbags in 2010, he notes.

Image by Looking Glass (Fernando de Sousa), used under its Creative Commons license.

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