Rear Seat Belt Warning System

On July 2, Congress passed a highway bill that calls for providing a “safety belt use warning system for designated seating positions in the rear seat.”  The law won’t take effect for another three years, which will give regulators time to determine the best way of implementing the plan. 

A spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that the specifics remain unclear and that the “agency is in the early stages of establishing performance requirements for rear seat belt reminder systems.”   The law has been a long time in coming.  Seat belt reminders for front seats have been around since the 1970’s and are required for the driver’s seat.  Almost all 2010 models, three-fourths, include a seat belt warning for the passenger seat, too.  A study by the government in 2007 found that “enhanced seat belt reminders” improved seat belt use by 3.9 percent.  A study by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in 2010, found driver fatality rates were 6 percent lower in vehicles with enhanced belt reminders.

Russ Rader, IIHS spokesman, said that unbelted backseat occupants are a major problem, noting that those backseat passengers wearing lap and shoulder belts face a 44 percent lower risk of fatal injury in cars and 73 percent lower risk in vans and SUV’S.  Teenage passengers, according to NHTSA, buckle up less frequently than adults and, thus, are more at risk for injury and death than other passengers.  In a 2008 study, 56 percent of 16-20 year-olds involved in fatal accidents were unbuckled.

Not only are unbuckled passengers a risk to themselves, but they are a risk to other backseat passengers and those people in the front seat as well.  According to Joseph Colella, a consultant who works for Traffic Safety Projects, an unbelted backseat passenger can become a projectile and injure or cause death to other people in the vehicle.

The bill gives the Secretary of Transportation up to three years to issue a final rule as to what type of seat belt reminder – audible, visual symbol or textual – will be required, but until then, make sure you remind those back seat passengers as well as those in the front, to buckle up.