The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a proposed rule regarding seat belt warnings for passenger seats in motor vehicles that the agency estimates would prevent approximately 300 non-fatal injuries and over 100 fatalities annually.
Specifically, NHTSA’s proposed rule requires automotive manufacturers to equip vehicles with seat belt use warning systems for the right front passenger and rear seats to increase seat belt 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.
Presently, seat belt warnings are required for the driver’s seat, but not mandated for the other seats in the vehicle. The proposed rule would also update current driver seat belt warning system requirements.
Requirements Under Proposed Rule
Under the proposed rule, requirements for rear seats would include a visual warning on vehicle startup lasting at least 60 seconds to notify the driver of the status of the rear seat belts. In addition, automakers must outfit vehicles with an audio-visual change-of-status warning lasting at least 30 seconds if a rear seat belt is unbuckled while the vehicle is in operation.
The new mandate for the front seat is three-pronged. Automakers would be required to include an audio-visual seat belt use warning for the right front passenger’s seat; an audio-visual seat belt use warning for the driver and right-front passenger seat that remains active until both the driver and right-front passenger seat occupants are belted; and, an audio-visual change-of-status warning for both the driver and right-front passenger seats that remain active until the unfastened seat belt is refastened.
How Seat Belts Impact Safety
Studies show that seat belts save lives. Seat belt compliance decreases the risk of death in a passenger car by 55% in the front seat and 44% in the back seat, according to NHTSA. The odds are even more pronounced for light trucks and vans, where the chances of a fatality are reduced by 63-74% for people wearing a seat belt.
Even though approximately 90% of people buckle up, nearly half of the vehicle occupants killed on U.S. roadways each year are not wearing seat belts. Belt use is lower in the back seat even though the dangers to passengers in the event of a crash are just as pronounced: Nearly a quarter of rear-seat occupants weren’t buckled up in 2021.
Safety advocates are commending NHTSA on the new proposed rule.
In a press release, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association noted that “requiring seat belt 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. While this is a positive step, it will take years for this technology to be present in all vehicles.”