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Seatbelt Reminders to Expand Under New U.S. Regulation

There is no disputing that seatbelts save lives. That is the driving factor behind a new push to widen required seatbelt reminders in cars across the country.

All cars sold in the U.S. are already required to come with reminder systems – blinking lights, bells, dings or other audio-visual cues – for drivers who start their vehicles without buckling up or unfastening the devices while their cars are running.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently proposed expanding required warnings to the passenger side and rear seats. The rule, proposed in August, would also boost existing warnings for driver-side seats.

“Wearing a seatbelt is one of the most effective ways to prevent injury and death in a crash,” Ann Carlson, the agency’s acting administrator, said in a statement announcing the proposal. “In 2021, almost 43,000 people lost their lives on America’s roads, and half of those in vehicles were unbelted. This proposed rule can help reduce that number by getting more to buckle up.”

The move comes as officials in Colorado have stepped up efforts to get drivers and passengers to make use of the vital safety devices when they hit the road. 

Colorado cops issued nearly 1,600 tickets statewide to drivers for not properly wearing seatbelts – or having a passenger in their cars who was not buckled up – over a three-week stretch earlier this year. About 120 of those tickets went to drivers who were found to have children in their cars who were not properly restrained.

If finalized, the new NHTSA rule would require automobile manufacturers to equip vehicles with seatbelt use warning systems for the right front passenger and rear seats to increase seatbelt use. The new requirements would apply to passenger cars, trucks, most buses, and multipurpose passenger vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less.

The proposed rule would require audio-visual seatbelt warnings for driver and front passenger seats, warnings that remain active until the belts are actually buckled, according to NHTSA. The warnings would alert again anytime a front seatbelt is unbuckled and continue until the belt is refastened.

For rear seats, the proposed rule would require a visual warning that lasts at least 60 seconds every time a vehicle is started. The warning would alert the driver of the status of the rear seatbelts. The rule would additionally require an audio-visual “change-of-status” warning lasting at least 30 seconds if a rear seatbelt is unbuckled while the vehicle is in operation.

NHTSA estimates that the changes will prevent as many as 300 injuries and 100 deaths in car accidents every year.

“For rear seat occupants, seatbelts reduce the risk of fatality by 55% for passenger cars and 74% for light trucks and vans,” the agency said. “For front seat occupants, seatbelts reduce the risk of fatality by 44% for passenger cars and 63% to 73% for light trucks and vans.”

Congress urged NHTSA to extend seatbelt warnings to rear seats all the way back in 2012, according to a Reuters report. 

Safety advocates are already hailing the proposal as better late than never.

“Requiring seatbelt audio and visual alerts for all passengers — as current regulations require for drivers — will encourage more people to take the simple, life-saving action of buckling up,” the Governors Highway Safety Association said in a statement following the proposal’s unveiling.

But advocates also noted that NHTSA is proposing delaying the implementation of the rule for at least one year for front seat warnings and two years for rear seat warnings.

“While this is a positive step, it will take years for this technology to be present in all vehicles,” the GHSA said in its statement.

Buckle Up: It Could Save Your Life

Seatbelts are absolutely vital safety tools. They work primarily by keeping people in their seats when car accidents happen.

Drivers and passengers who are not buckled up are far more likely to be injured or killed than those wearing seatbelts. Unbuckled people may be thrown around in the vehicle or ejected, a situation that typically ends in catastrophic injury or death. 

More than 26,000 people are killed in car accidents throughout the U.S. every year, the NHTSA data show. Roughly half of those people are not wearing seatbelts, the federal agency estimates.

A person in the front seat of a passenger car, for instance, can reduce the risk of a fatal injury by 45% by wearing a seatbelt. Buckling up also cuts the risk of a moderate to critical injury by 50%, according to NHTSA.

The benefits increase for drivers and front-seat passengers in light trucks. Buckling up reduces the risk of a fatal injury by 60% and cuts the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50%, according to NHTSA.

Fortunately, seatbelt use is already on the rise.

Nearly 92 percent of all drivers and passengers use seatbelts, according to the latest NHTSA data. That figure is up from about 86 percent just a decade ago.

Coloradans unfortunately are a little behind the curve. The state saw a more than 88 percent seatbelt usage rate in the first eight months of this year, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. That was up from about 82 percent a decade earlier.

Speak with a Denver Car Accident Lawyer 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a road rage or other crash in Colorado, a Denver car accident lawyer at Levine Law can help you take action. Our attorneys combine decades of experience and a strong track record of success in the courtroom and through negotiated settlements.

We are pleased to serve clients throughout Colorado, including in Denver, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, and Loveland. Call us at 303-333-8000 or contact us online to speak with a Denver car accident lawyer.

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