Health Promotion

Death in the Back Seat

By: Garry Lapidus, PA-C, MPH

There’s no doubt about it, seat belt use among drivers and passengers in vehicles saves lives.

However, there’s a gap in Connecticut’s current law that should be fixed.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have made it mandatory for adult passengers riding in the back seat of vehicles to buckle up. Connecticut needs to join that group.

Unbelted rear seat passengers are at increased risk compared to those wearing seat belts, as they are more likely to be ejected from vehicles during a motor vehicle crash and they are more likely to become a moving object that can cause serious harm or even death to others in a vehicle.

Each year in Connecticut, more than 120 adults are injured and approximately five adults die who were rear seat, unbelted occupants of vehicles involved in crashes.

Not only does research prove seat belts are effective in reducing motor vehicle crash injuries, it also highlights a high rate of compliance in states where safety restraints are mandatory for adults riding in back seats.

Current law in Connecticut requires those 18 years and older buckle up only while riding in the front seat of a car. That practice saves lives. The reasoning behind that law should also apply to enacting mandatory seat belt usage for adults in back seats.

According to research published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 44 percent for back seat outboard occupants. That reduction climbs to 73 percent for back seat outboard occupants of vans and SUVs.

In contrast, exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury or death to other occupants in a car by 40 percent, according to an article published in the journal Injury Prevention. Also, in a frontal crash, an unbelted rear seat passenger sitting behind a belted driver increases the risk of fatality for that driver by 137 percent compared to a belted rear seat passenger, according to an article published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The Connecticut legislature has considered such a change to state law before but declined to take action. I am hoping this session is different, as the facts are clear. Revising and upgrading state law to mandate safety belt use for occupants of all ages in all seating positions will prevent injuries and death, while also reducing health care costs.

Garry Lapidus, PA-C, MPH, is the director of Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center and an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at the UConn School of Medicine.

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