Seat Belts Are Crucial Safety Devices In Cars

To The Reader’s Forum:

As you note in your May 30 editorial (“It Will Take Time to Change Minds, Make Rear Seat Belts Safer”), our research has highlighted some deficiencies in protection for back-seat passengers in today’s vehicles. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s any doubt about the importance of using seat belts in every seating position during every trip. Nor does it mean that states need to hold off on requiring seat belt use in every seating position, as you suggest.

In a study that we conducted in 2014 with researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we found that the risk of serious injury to an unbelted rear-seat passenger in a tow-away crash is nearly 8 times as high as the risk to a belted rear-seat passenger.

Unbelted occupants can also put other people in the vehicle at risk. In a frontal crash, for example, an unbelted passenger sitting behind a belted driver increases the driver’s fatality risk by 137 percent, researchers from the University of Virginia have found.

It’s true, as you note, that it will take time to change people’s attitudes about buckling up in the back seat. Updating the law should help with that. In states that require belt use in all seating positions, 84 percent of back-seat passengers were observed using seat belts in 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports. That compares with 63 percent of back-seat passengers in states that require only front-seat belt use.

Our recent research that you described found that occupant protection in the back seat hasn’t kept pace with recent advances in the front seat. We’re using this information to develop a new frontal crash test that will evaluate occupant protection in the rear as well as the front, and we’re confident that automakers will come up with solutions. But even without those changes, seat belts are crucial safety devices, and the public health message is clear: No matter where you’re sitting, buckle up.

Jessica S. Jermakian

Senior Research Engineer

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Arlington, Va.

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