A recent survey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveals that many adults don’t find a seat belt in the back seat necessary because they perceive the back seat to be safer than the front. The IIHS surveyed adults 18 and older by cellphone and landline between June and August 2016. Of the 1,172 respondents who said they had ridden in the backseat of a vehicle during the preceding six months, 72 percent said they always use their belt in the back seat, while 91 percent said they always use their belt while seated in the front.
Prior to this study, not a lot of research existed on rear-seat belt use. According to the IIHS, more than half of the people who die in passenger vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year are unbelted. One person’s decision not to use their seat belt could have consequences for the other passengers.
“People who don’t use safety belts might think their neglect won’t hurt anyone else. That’s not the case,” Jessica Jermakian, an IIHS senior research engineer and co-author of the study says. “In the rear seat a lap/shoulder belt is the primary means of protection in a frontal crash. Without it, bodies can hit hard surfaces or other people at full speed, leading to serious injuries.”
The study shows that adults 35 to 54 years old were the least likely group to report always buckling up in the back seat. 66% of this group reported always using a belt in the back, compared with 76 percent of adults 55 and older, and 73 percent of adults 18 to 34. Women were more likely than men to use a rear-seat belt, and adults who attended college were more likely than those with less education.
The study also reveals a gap between riding in a hired vehicle such as a taxi or Lyft as opposed to a personal vehicle. In the survey, 57 percent of passengers in hired vehicles reported always using their belt in the rear seat compared to 74 percent of passengers in personal vehicles.
The survey shows that 60 percent of respondents said a law would convince them to use belts in the back seat. Currently, 29 states and D.C. have laws requiring rear-seat passengers to use seat belts. Of these 29 states, 20 carry primary enforcement—a police officer can stop a driver solely for a belt-law violation. The other 9 states are secondary—an officer must have another reason to stop a vehicle before issuing a safety belt violation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates safety belts saved 13,941 lives in 2015 alone. If everyone buckled up, an additional 2,800 deaths could have been prevented.
Read more about the IIHS survey here.