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Getting passengers to buckle up in the back seat remains a challenge: report

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Washington — Of the 803 unbuckled rear-seat passengers 8 or older who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2018, about half would have survived if they had worn a seat belt, the Governors Highway Safety Association contends in a recently released report.

A follow-up to a GHSA report published in 2015, Rear Seat Belt Use: Little Change in Four Years, Much More to Do notes that the number of unbelted rear-seat fatalities in 2018 is 80 fewer than the 883 recorded in 2013, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. However, back seat belt use in passenger vehicles dropped to 76% in 2018 from 78% in 2013. Additionally, people use rear seat belts 14% less often than front seat belts.

Further, only 57% of people who travel in ride-sharing or hired vehicles always buckle up, the report states, citing the result of a 2016 poll conducted by Opinion America Group.

Only 19 states and the District of Columbia allow primary enforcement of unbelted rear-seat passengers. Eleven states have secondary enforcement laws for the violation, meaning law enforcement officials can issue a ticket for an unbelted rear-seat passenger only after a vehicle is stopped for another reason.

Since the release of the previous report, only Mississippi has enacted a primary law regarding unbelted occupants in back seats, and Alabama has enacted a secondary law. This leaves 20 states without any kind of rear seat belt laws.

In a Nov. 18 press release, GHSA offers the following recommendations to help increase rear seat belt use:

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

“Collectively, these actions would go a long way toward increasing rear seat belt use to be more on par with front seat belt use,” James Hedlund, the report’s author and a former NHTSA official, said in the release. “While the steps are straightforward, they will require persistence and commitment.”

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