I want to thank my good friends at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety for supplying this week’s safe driving topic -- buckling up in the back seat is no joke. As they so correctly pointed out in a pre-April Fool’s Day press release, wearing a seat belt in the back seat is just as important as wearing one in the front.
In 2010, nearly 33,000 Americans lost their lives in largely preventable traffic crashes. Knowing that seat belts, regardless of seating position, can reduce your chances of dying in a crash by as much as 70 percent, why wouldn’t you buckle up? Failure to buckle up, however, remains a major contributing factor in fatal crashes. From 1999 to 2010, over 5,000 motor vehicle occupants were killed in crashes in New Jersey and nearly half were unrestrained.
Seat belt use is a particularly important message for our youngest and most vulnerable drivers since their odds of crashing are four times higher than any other age group on the road. While we may think teens and their passengers are buckling up, that’s not necessarily the case. A 2011 Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found that 83% of young drivers report always wearing their seat belts, down 8 points from 2010. When it comes to back seat belt use, teens and young adults are 11 percent less likely than other age groups to buckle up -- doing so at a rate of just 40%.
Seat belt use is also critical for adolescents and young teens who are often riding as passengers in cars driven by older teens. A 2010 nationwide survey conducted by SafeKids Worldwide found that teen’s self-reported seat belt use is lower than parents estimate (94%) and slips between ages 13 (actually 85%) and 14 (actually 79%). Reinforcing seat belt use is critical -- starting at ages 12-14, a child passenger’s risk of dying in a crash involving a teen driver doubles and the risk continues to rise for each teen year.
Seat belts, however, aren’t just for children and teens. Everyone riding in a motor vehicle should always buckle up. Under New Jersey’s occupant restraint law, all children under 8 years of age or 8 pounds must ride properly restrained in an approved car or booster seat. Passengers between 8 and 18 years of age must wear seat belts, and all passengers regardless of age must be properly restrained if the driver is holding a Graduated Driver License.
Once the driver is fully licensed (basic license), all front seat passengers (as well as the driver) must buckle up. What about adult back seat passengers? While the law calls on them to buckle up, failure to do so is a secondary rather than a primary offense. That means that a police officer can’t stop the driver if a back seat adult passenger isn’t buckled up, unless that driver has committed some other offense. If the driver has committed a violation and is stopped, the unbuckled adult back seat passenger (not the driver) may be issued a ticket for failure to wear a seat belt.
If you or some you know (and love), isn’t a regular back seat belt user, consider this -- in a crash at 30 mph, an unbelted adult back seat passenger literally becomes a bullet and is thrown forward with the force of 3 1/2 tons, the weight of an elephant charging straight through the windshield, at the driver, the dashboard or another passenger. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the front seats are high enough to cushion you and provide adequate protection in the event of a crash. And keep mind that if you’re not belted in a rollover crash, you may be ejected and run over by your vehicle or another on the road, a traumatic event you’re unlikely to survive.
So please buckle up, remind your tweens and teens to do so each and every time they head out the door, and make it a rule that the car doesn’t move until everyone, regardless of seating position, is properly restrained. As for back seat use, even if it’s not a primary law buckle up. Your belted family and friends in the front are 20% more likely to die in a crash if you don’t.
One final note, seat belts will be the subject of one of five workshops for teens 14-16 years of age at this year’s Teen Safe Driving Summit, GDL4U: Good Driving for Life, May 12 in Freehold. Registration for the teen/parent event, sponsored by the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition, is now open!