New federal proposal would expand seat belt warning systems for passengers

The U.S. Department of Transportation wants everyone riding in a car or truck buckled up.

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DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new rule that would require additional warning systems for front-seat and back-seat passengers.

Leaders from Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said these changes are needed.

“We know seatbelt use in the rear seat lags seatbelt use in the front seat. If you’re not buckled up in the rear seat, you are far more likely to be injured or killed in a crash,” said Peter Kurdock, General Counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hopes this new proposal will help encourage riders to buckle up. It comes as agency officials say almost 43,000 people died in car crashes in 2021 and half of those victims weren’t wearing a seat belt.

“We have had this technology in the front seat for years - no reason we shouldn’t have it in the backseat, especially when we know seatbelt use lags in the backseat,” said Kurdock. “So, anything we can do to make sure that people are wearing their seatbelts, we should be doing.”

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These new requirements would also apply to trucks, most buses, and multipurpose passenger vehicles. NHTSA says the changes would include both visual and audio notifications.

For example, it would require a visual warning on the car’s startup lasting at least 60 seconds to notify the driver of the status of the back seat belts. There would be another alert warning if passengers aren’t buckled up while the car is moving.

It would also require ongoing alerts until both the driver and front seat passengers buckle up.

This rule also allows vehicle manufacturers to adjust things like the frequency and volume of these signals.

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The Washington News Bureau reached out to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many of those companies, about this proposal.

“Safety is the auto industry’s top priority. While technology continues to make the driving experience safer, seatbelts are a critical safety component in today’s vehicles, and we encourage all occupants to ensure they are belted on every trip,” said the association in a written statement.

Moving forward, highway safety advocates believe these changes will make a major difference.

“Seat belts save lives,” said Kurdock. “In fact, they save thousands of lives each year.”