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Sitting in the Backseat? You Still Need to Buckle Up

Features in newer vehicles are making them safer than ever, but the rear seat still proves deadly for passengers who fail to buckle up, federal data show.

Nationwide, only 76 percent of rear-seat passengers use seat belts, compared with 90 percent of front-seat passengers, according to a recent study from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Seat Belt Laws in Illinois and Across the U.S.

The report collected data on seat belt laws across the country, noting that 19 states (including Illinois), as well as Washington, D.C., and two territories, specify that a person not wearing a seat belt in the front seat or the rear seat is a primary offense. This means that law enforcement officers can ticket a driver, a front-seat passenger, or a rear-seat passenger for not wearing a seat belt, even without any other traffic infraction.

In Illinois, the law applies to people 16 years or older. The maximum fine for a first offense is $25, according to the GHSA.

The highest penalty among states with a primary seat belt law that includes rear-seat passengers is California, where the offense is punishable by $162 (a $20 fine plus penalties and assessments).

Eleven states have laws that specify rear-seat passengers not wearing a seat belt as a secondary offense, meaning that law enforcement officers can ticket someone for not wearing a seat belt only if there is another citable infraction.

Why Buckling Up in the Back Seat Is Crucial

Safety officials often say that seat belts save lives, but the GHSA report emphasized the use of seat belts among rear-seat passengers because they are two times more likely to die in a car crash if they are unbelted, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In fact, in 2018, more than 400 rear-seat passengers ages 8 and older who died in motor vehicle crashes would have survived had they been using seat belts, NHTSA data show.

What’s more, passengers in taxis and ridesharing vehicles such as Uber buckle up less often than others. According to one public opinion survey that the GHSA cited, only 57 percent of respondents who often traveled in hired vehicles said they always used a seat belt.

Why didn’t those passengers buckle up? The top reason (80 percent) was that the ride was a short trip, or one in a hired vehicle such as Lyft, Uber, or taxi, the survey said.

Other reasons these rear-seat passengers failed to buckle up include:

  • Comfort and convenience (68 percent)
  • Forgetting to use the seat belt (52 percent)
  • The rear seat being too crowded (33 percent)
  • Others in the vehicle were not belted (24 percent)

The GHSA recommended several actions to reduce rear-seat deaths and increase rear-seat passengers using seat belts. These include:

  • States passing, enforcing, and publicizing laws about the safety benefits of using seat belts for all passengers
  • Vehicle manufacturers installing reminders for rear-seat passengers to wear seat belts
  • For-hire vehicle services promoting seat belt use among their passengers

We Care About Your Safety

At Salvi, Schostok, & Pritchard, P.C., we have seen the devastating impacts an auto accident can have on people who are not wearing their seat belts. We encourage everyone on the road to do everything in their power to stay safe. Although you cannot stop others from driving dangerously, you can take every precaution to protect yourself.

If you or a family member has been hurt in a car accident, please contact our trusted law firm today to learn about your legal rights.

Patrick A. Salvi

Patrick A. Salvi concentrates his legal practice in several limited areas primarily involving a trial practice in cases concerning serious personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and mass torts. Mr. Salvi has achieved record-breaking jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, including serving as lead counsel in obtaining an Illinois record-high $148 million jury verdict and a Lake County record $33 million jury verdict.

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