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NHTSA Proposes New Safety Belt Rules

On August 21, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed to amend the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to include seat belt warnings for rear passenger seats.

The proposed rule will mandate seat belt warning signs for nearly all new vehicles manufactured in the United States, requiring car makers to include visual and audio alerts when rear seatbelts are not buckled. In addition, the proposed rule will extend warning times for unbuckled seats for front seat passengers.

Vehicles currently include alerts when driver seat belts are not buckled in. Some newer vehicles already include passenger seatbelt alerts, and even fewer include alerts for when rear seats are not buckled.

The proposal is an effort to reduce injury and fatalities in auto accidents by encouraging the use of front and rear seat belts. An annual NHTSA study found that seat belt use increased significantly over the past decade, however, rear seat belt use remained approximately 20% lower than front seat belt use as can be seen in the 2021 report which shows front seat belt use at 90% and rear seat belt use at 78%.

Seat belts are one the most effective ways to limit serious injuries and fatalities in auto accidents. The NHTSA reported that approximately 50% of the 26,000 passengers killed in auto accidents in 2021 were not using seat belts at the time of the crash. In addition, 49% of SUV drivers and 47% of SUV passengers killed in auto accidents were not wearing seat belts; and in fatal auto crashes involving Pick Up trucks, 60% of drivers killed and 64% of passengers killed were not wearing seat belts.

According to Automotive Fleet, the proposed rule will prevent over 300 non-fatal injuries and over 100 deaths from auto accidents.

The National Safety Council found that car accident injuries and fatalities were higher on holidays. In addition, summer holidays like Labor Day reported a higher incidence of car accident injuries and fatalities resulting from those accidents.

The study also reported that passenger use of seatbelts can prevent up to 45% of fatalities during a car accident.

What is the current rule?

Seat belt warnings are mandatory for drivers’ seats but not others. This proposal expands on the current rule to include all passengers.

What is the proposed rule?

The rule will require car manufacturers to install alerts for all seat belts. For the front seat passenger and driver, an audio-visual warning will activate until seat belts are buckled in. For rear seat passengers, an audio-visual warning will alert the driver and front seat passenger until the seat belt is buckled. In addition, an alert will activate if the rear seat belts are removed while the vehicle is moving.

To whom will the new rule apply?

The proposed rule will make it mandatory for vehicle manufacturers to have seat belt alert systems for both front and rear passengers for vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less including cars, trucks, some buses, and other passenger vehicles.

The public is welcome to comment on the proposed rule within 60 days. Information on this can be found here.

The CaseyGerry auto accident lawyers have been helping victims and loved ones who have been injured or killed in auto accidents for over 75-years. We strongly encourage all to practice safe driving practices because seat belts save lives.

Learn more about our Car Accident practice area here.