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Backseat driver: A new push to buckle

Buckle in back

Seat belts cut down on deaths and serious crash-related injuries by half, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, a renewed safety push seeks to get passengers to buckle their seat belts in back.

Twenty-two states don’t require seat belt use in rear seats, and the remaining states don’t emphasize buckling up in back. In 2013, 883 people age 8 and above died during crashes as they rode unrestrained in vehicle backseats. That’s according to a new study from the Governors Highway Safety Association, “Unbuckled in Back: An Overlooked Issue in Highway Safety.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 400 of those people would have survived had they been wearing their safety belts.

Passengers not wearing a belt in a rear seat are three times more likely to die in a crash, the report says. It found that 87 percent of passengers use seat belts in the front seats, while only 78 percent use them in the back.

insuranceQuotes asked Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, to talk about rear seat buckling.

Q. How did backseat belts become an issue?

A. State highway safety agencies saw and reported a jump in fatalities from unbelted-in-the-back passengers.

When it comes to using seat belts, folks tend to think we’ve solved that. But, unfortunately, we haven’t. Backseat injuries and fatalities are a part of the issue that hasn’t been fully addressed. We’ve made progress, but more needs to happen.

Q. Why aren’t drivers more aware of the dangers?

A. Some people think there’s a magic level of safety in the backseat. But the safety gain compared to front seat passengers is slight.

As adults we’re used to sitting in the front seat, so we don’t always think about backseat passengers, unless it’s children. Becoming aware of the need to have backseat passengers always buckled is a change in behavior that will take time for individuals to change.

Q. The study says 22 states don’t require passengers to buckle up in the backseat. What are the biggest barriers?

A. Politics is the primary barrier. Highway safety advocates would like to see these laws enacted, but the state legislative process is riddled with roadblocks. Any seat belt bills are often met with resistance from more libertarian-minded legislators who believe any mandate to buckle up infringes on an individual’s personal liberty.

Regardless of state law, it’s good practice for all drivers to insist that all rear seat passengers are buckled in. It could protect both their passenger and themselves because an unbuckled backseat passenger can become a projectile in a crash and injure or kill the driver or front seat passenger.

It’s a life-or-death matter.

Q. What can a driver or passenger do to get in the habit of making sure everyone in rear seats are belted in?

A. Before they turn on the ignition, a driver should double check to make sure everyone is buckled in. They should look around. Passengers should make sure their rear seat belts are accessible and working before they settle in. If multiple people are getting into the back of a car, it’s a good idea to let the first passenger buckle up before the next person slides in next to them.

If someone had an open container in your car, you’d look at them like they were crazy. It’s the same thing with rear seatbelts. It comes down to common sense and personal responsibility.

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