In 2016, 900 unrestrained rear-seat passengers died in car accidents. Half of those might have lived–had they only worn a seat belt.

Car accidents are more likely to cause a back-seat passenger fatal injuries.

Seat belts make us safer.

Invented in the late 1800s by English engineer George Cayley to keep glider pilots in place, seat belts for ground vehicles were only slowly put to use in the first decades of the automobile age. But the safety benefits began to be better understood during the 1930s; and in 1958, Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin invented the modern three-point seat belt.

For over 50 years now, seat belts have been required in all vehicles driven in the United States. But a recent study asks whether automakers should do more to improve seat belts for back-seat passengers.

How safe are riders in the rear?

Seat belts and airbags do much to safeguard occupants when their vehicle is involved in an auto accident. However, not every passenger enjoys the same amount of protection. Even when buckled in, those sitting in the back are at greater risk in certain kinds of crashes.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is now considering whether advancements in front-seat protections can and should be extended to rear-seat passengers. Front seat belts and back seat belts work differently. When a vehicle crashes, the seat belts of front occupants automatically tighten, holding the passenger in place through devices called crash tensioners and force limiters. But such features are omitted from seat belts for the rear of the vehicle. Combined with the lack of airbags, this means that an accident is more likely to cause a back-seat passenger to lunge forward and collide with front seats or other interior objects.

One reason for renewed interest in enhancing back-seat restraints is the growth in ride-sharing services, now readily available across this country. Some argue that the need for upgrades has grown more urgent as more and more people become back-seat passengers.

Uber to All: “Buckle up!”

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have grown in popularity very quickly. In 2014, only about 5 percent of the population used a ride-sharing app. Various data suggest that by 2018, between a quarter of Americans and 43 percent had used the apps. How well protected are people who hop into the back seat of an Uber auto?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2016 more than 23,600 drivers and passengers died in vehicle crashes. More than half had not been wearing a seat belt. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) notes that in 2016, 900 back-seat passengers not wearing a seat belt died in accidents. It believes that more than 450 of them would have survived had they been wearing a seat belt.

Most states, including Colorado, have no laws mandating seat belts for back-seat passengers who are not infants or young children. Some people, including some Coloradoans, want that to change. An Evergreen, CO mother whose daughter was killed after being ejected through a rear window is among those calling for stricter seat belt laws.

Meanwhile, Uber is working with GHSA to encourage its passengers to buckle up whenever they get into a vehicle. Because most people who use Uber or Lyft get into the back seat, the organizations hope that their “Make It Click: Every seat. Every ride” campaign takes off.

The goal is to get people to buckle up in back just as routinely as they do when sitting in front. Snapping yourself in takes only a few seconds, and it may save your life.

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