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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 12, 2018 1:00 am

Back-seat riders should buckle up

Fran Kritz | Washington Post

If you're reading this story from the back seat of car, there's a good chance you're not wearing a seat belt. A recent survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 28 percent of respondents don't always click a seat belt when they're in the back of a car.

The most common reason for not buckling up in the back, according to the 1,172 survey respondents, is that there is no need, because the rear seat is safer than the front. But that's not always true. “Adults have gotten the message that it's safer for kids to ride in the back seat properly restrained, but when it comes to their own safety, there is a common misperception that buckling up is optional,” said Jessica Jermakian, a senior research engineer at IIHS.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2015, 4.3 percent of 22,441 fatalities – or 966 deaths – involved unrestrained people in rear seats. And IIHS research finds that unbuckled rear-seat travelers are eight times as likely as buckled rear-seat passengers to be injured or killed in a crash.

“While the rear seat retains its reputation as the safest part of the car, in reality that is now the front seat for adults and older teenagers,” said Kristy Arbogast, director of engineering at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The rear seat hasn't become more dangerous, Arbogast said, “it's that the front seat has become safer.” Improvements to the front seat include lap and shoulder belts with advanced features that reduce forces experienced in a crash and that minimize slack from the belt – few rear seat belts are so designed – and new types of air bags for the driver and passenger, said Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.

While some car models have side rear air bags, these are generally expensive add-ons. People often turn them down to save money or to purchase other extras, such as heated seats and music systems, Levine said.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia allow police officers to ticket a driver if the driver or the front-seat passenger is not wearing a seat belt, while only 18 states have the same laws for rear-seat riders.