It Will Take Time To Change Minds, Make Rear Seat Belts Safer

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to expand New York’s seat belt law to back-seat passengers regardless of age.

The legislation would likely save lives, but it’s worth mentioning that the governor may be pushing legislation before rear seat safety belts should be used all the time.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently released a study of frontal crashes in which belted rear-seat passengers were killed or seriously injured that IIHS officials say is a sign that better restraint systems are needed in the back seat. Failing to buckle up was a big factor in crashes injuring those ages 6 and over, but many older adults and children over the age of 9 suffered injuries even when belted. The institute is using the information to develop a new front crash test that will evaluate occupant protection in the rear as well as the front and conducting a series of research crash tests. The IIHS study says that in the rear seat, side airbags protect passengers in a side crash, but there are no front airbags, and the seat belts generally lack crash tensioners and force limiters. Although intruding structure is usually not an issue in the back seat during a frontal collision, crash forces can cause a back-seat passenger to collide with the vehicle’s interior. Seat belts can prevent that, but, as the new study shows, seat belts without force limiters can inflict chest injuries.

IIHS officials aren’t prescribing a particular solution for the back seat. Instead, institute officials said a crash test that evaluates rear-seat protection will prompt automakers to figure out what combination of technologies works best.

Passengers are safer if they use a seat belt while riding in the back seat of a vehicle, but the IIHS report indicates simply wearing a seat belt in the back seat isn’t the panacea that advocates say it is. New York absolutely should encourage people to wear safety belts in the back seat. Studies and statistics show even flawed rear safety seat restraints are safer than wearing nothing. But perhaps the legislature should hold off on making such a change law. It will take time to change people’s attitudes toward using a seat belt in the back seat. It will also apparently take time to make back seat safety belts as safe as they need to be.