Safety

As Families Take to the Roadways, New Report Notes More Than 800 Unbuckled Rear Passengers Killed in 2018

Each year, hundreds of unbelted passengers in the back seat of motor vehicles are killed in crashes. New federal data reveal that, in 2018 alone, 803 unrestrained rear seat passengers age eight and up lost their lives; more than 400 of them may be alive today had they fastened their seat belts. Riders in taxis and ride-hailing vehicles buckle up in the back less often than in private vehicles. In one public survey, only 57% of respondents who traveled mostly in hired vehicles reported always buckling up.

The Governors Highway Safety Association has released "Rear Seat Belt Use: Little Change in Four Years, Much More to Do." This spotlight report explores adult rear seat belt use rates, state laws and enforcement, and public education efforts. Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North, a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), wrote the report. Uber provided funding for its production and design.

The report notes that, even though safety features in newer vehicles have made the front seat safer than the rear seat in a crash, observed rear belt use nationwide continues to lag significantly behind front seat belt use: 76% versus 90%, respectively.

“As millions take to the road this holiday season on family car trips, and as use of ride hailing services continues to surge, more people find themselves in the back seat of passenger vehicles. That means it’s even more imperative that we work together to encourage all motor vehicle passengers to take their safety seriously, no matter the seating position,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins.

The report makes specific recommendations on how states and other stakeholders can and should save lives by increasing rear seat belt use by adults:

  • States should pass and enforce strong laws and publicize the benefits of belt use in all seating positions
  • For-hire vehicle services should actively promote belt use to their passengers
  • Vehicle manufacturers should install rear seat belt use reminders
  • NHTSA should develop programs and finalize federal rulemaking to require rear belt reminders

As Dr. Hedlund notes, “Collectively, these actions would go a long way toward increasing rear seat belt use to be more on par with front seat belt use. While the steps are straightforward, they will require persistence and commitment.”

GHSA and Uber also are partnering on other rear belt use promotional efforts. For example, the groups launched National Seat Belt Day on November 14 to raise awareness of the history of the seat belt and its lifesaving effect. The organizations also are collaborating on a “Make it Click: Every seat. Every ride” national effort to encourage ride-share customers, and all back-seat vehicle passengers, to always buckle up.

For a list of current state seat belt laws, visit ghsa.org/beltlaws.

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