December 18, 2015

New Report: States Should Make Backseat Passengers Buckle Up

The Governors Highway Safety Association, in “Unbuckled in Back: An Overlooked Issue in Occupant Protection,” reports that rear seatbelt underuse is a significant traffic safety concern and urges states to take steps to increase seatbelt use by backseat passengers.

According to the report, rear seat passengers are three times more likely to die in a crash if they are unbelted. The National Highway Safety Administration estimates that of the 883 unrestrained rear seat passengers who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2013, 400 would have survived if they had buckled up (see figure). Despite the potential benefits of using rear seatbelts, nationwide rear seatbelt use is 78%, which is significantly less than front seatbelt use (87%), the report stated.

Rear seat passengers who buckle up also increase the chances of front seat passengers surviving a crash. As the report notes, front seat passengers are twice as likely to die in a crash when seated in front of an unbelted rear seat passenger (who can become a projectile) than they are when seated in front of a belted rear seat passenger.

The report discusses several reasons why rear seatbelts are underused. Some states don’t have laws requiring rear seatbelt use (Connecticut is one of them), others don’t adequately enforce their laws requiring such use, and many don’t focus on rear seatbelt use in public awareness campaigns. To increase rear seatbelt use, the report recommends that the states take several actions, including:

  1. enacting a primary enforcement rear seatbelt law (primary enforcement allows police officers to ticket someone for a violation at any time);
  2. making rear seating positions a regular part of belt use enforcement; 
  3. including rear seatbelt use in public education efforts; and
  4. continuing efforts to increase front seatbelt use, because rear seatbelt use is higher in states with high front seatbelt use rates.