Don’t Let Safety Take a Back Seat

By Jim Hedlund, Highway Safety North & Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director, Governors Highway Safety Association

Memorial Day weekend is quickly approaching, and folks around the country are gearing up for summer and all the travel and activities that come with it. With so many people hitting the road this weekend, the Governors Highway Safety Association is excited to partner with Uber as part of the national Click it or Ticket campaign and raise awareness of rear belt usage.

Most of us regularly wear our belts when we’re driving or sitting in the front seat. In 2014, 87 percent of drivers and right front passengers wore their seat belts in 2014 — but belt use in the back seat was only 73 percent for passengers age 8 and above. And for vehicles in fatal crashes, back seat belt use was even lower, at 60 percent. That same year, 838 back seat passengers were killed — unbuckled — in car crashes. Nearly half of them could have survived if they had only worn their seat belt. Our report, Unbuckled in Back: An Overlooked Issue in Highway Safety, provides front and back seat belt use rates and documents the effectiveness of belts in preventing injuries and fatalities.

And our tendency to not buckle up in the back only get worse when we use transportation services. A 2013 survey found that only 38 percent of NYC taxi riders wore seat belts, while front seat belt in all passenger vehicles was over 90 percent.

While improved air bags and front seat belt systems in newer cars have made front seats safer for adults, back seat safety hasn’t changed. An unbelted adult is now only slightly safer in the back seat than in the front. In any seat, riders are considerably safer when belted.

And rear belt usage isn’t just about safety for back seat passengers. In a crash, unbuckled back seat riders become projectiles that can seriously injure or even kill other occupants. For example, in a crash at just 30 mph, an unbelted adult back seat passenger can be thrown forward with the force of a charging elephant.

We know you’ve got places to be this summer. So whether you’re taking an Uber or riding along with friends, get there safely by buckling up in the back!

Jonathan Adkins is the Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, a national nonprofit organization representing state highway safety agencies that implement state-level behavioral highway safety plans programs. He directs the Association’s headquarters office in Washington, D.C. and serves as the chief liaison with the federal government and private sector partners.

Dr. Jim Hedlund is the Principal Consultant with Highway Safety North and a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. He conducted the analysis and wrote the 2015 GHSA report Unbuckled in Back: An Overlooked Issue in Highway Safety.