By Fran Mayko and Amy Parmenter
More than 30 years ago, Connecticut moved ahead of the curve nationally with the passage of one of the nation’s first mandatory seat belt laws. Now the law in 49 of the 50 states (New Hampshire doesn’t have a law for adults), seat belts are estimated to have saved more than 300,000 lives and prevented countless injuries throughout the country during that time. Buckling up is the single most effective action motorists can take to protect their safety and that of their passengers.
Technology has changed and crash investigations can now pinpoint in greater detail the vulnerabilities of vehicle occupants. The passage of time has revealed that those well-meaning legislators from 1985 may not have been aware of the need to protect all vehicle occupants. The current Connecticut General Assembly does have that opportunity, this year, to extend critical protection to everyone in a car, by simply making the state’s seat belt law also apply to rear seat passengers.
Estimates are that each year in Connecticut more than 120 adults are injured and approximately five adults die who were unbelted rear seat occupants. Dating back to 1995, that equates to close to 100 deaths and 2,500 injuries.
Over a quarter of adults don’t use a seat belt in the rear of the car. Perhaps they are lulled into a false sense of security, but research highlights just how dangerous it is to ride in the back seat unbelted. A recent study shows that although adults make up only 21 percent of rear-seat occupants, they account for 52% of deaths and 60% of serious injuries sustained in the back seat, primarily due to that lower rate of seat belt usage. In essence, by not buckling up in the back seat, you are 8 times more likely to be seriously injured in a crash and twice as likely to cause a front-seat occupant to die in a wreck by becoming a projectile.
It’s imperative that legislators require Connecticut residents to follow the advice of safety experts who recommend that all vehicle occupants wear seat belts at all times. AAA members agree: surveys conducted by AAA Allied Group and AAA Northeast show that 7 in 10 members believe seat belts should be mandatory for back seat passengers, regardless of age.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation proposed this measure last year, but it didn’t make it out of committee. And while the current legislative session is shortened and dealing primarily with fiscal issues, AAA feels it would be wrong to wait another year while more of our fellow citizens, friends and family members are injured or killed.
One simple click of a seat belt is all it takes to increase the chances of not becoming a statistic. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia require that all back seat passengers buckle up. AAA urges the legislature to make 2016 the year Connecticut does the right thing for safety and correct a law that was intended to protect everyone in a vehicle, regardless of where they are seated.
Fran Mayko is public affairs specialist for AAA Northeast, based in Hamden. Amy Parmenter is public affairs manager for AAA Allied Group, based in West Hartford.