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Rear seat belt warnings could be mandatory

Jan 14, 2024Jan 14, 2024

Seat belt warnings have long been required for the driver’s side in passenger vehicles, but they could also soon be mandatory for back seat passengers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed Monday that all passenger cars and trucks and most buses and multipurpose passenger vehicles be equipped with seat belt use warning systems for travelers in the right front seat and the second row.

“Wearing a seat belt is one of the most effective ways to prevent injury and death in a crash,” NHTSA acting Administrator Ann Carlson said in a statement.

In 2021, nearly 43,000 people died on U.S. roadways, according to the NHTSA. Half of the passenger vehicle occupants who died were not wearing a seat belt. The rates were even higher for rear seat occupants, 59% of whom were not belted when the car crashed.

NHTSA estimates the proposed rule would prevent 300 non-fatal injuries and 100 fatalities annually. The agency said rear seat belt usage rates have been consistently lower for rear seat passengers compared with those traveling in the front.

Seat belts can reduce the risk of fatality up to 55% for passenger cars and 74% for light trucks and vans, NHTSA said. For front seat occupants, seat belts can reduce the risk of fatality up to 44% for passenger cars and 63-83% for light trucks and vans.

Seat belt warning systems work by using visual or audible alerts to encourage their use. Under the proposed rule, rear seats would be required to incorporate visual warnings upon a vehicle’s startup that lasts at least 60 seconds to alert the driver to the status of the rear seat belts. It also requires an audio-visual change-of-status warning lasting at least 30 seconds if a rear seat belt is unbuckled while the vehicle is moving.

In addition, the proposed rule would upgrade the warning systems for front seats, including an audio-visual seat belt use warning for the right front passenger and audio-visual seat belt use warnings for the driver and right front passenger that is active until both front seat occupants are belted.

Automakers would be allowed to determine their own warning signal characters, including the volume and frequency of the audio-visual the warnings.