March 5, 2018
The Honorable Terry Gerratana
The Honorable Heather Somers
The Honorable Jonathan Steinberg
Public Health Committee
Legislative Office Building, Room 3000
Hartford, Connecticut 06106
Dear Co-Chairperson Gerratana, Co-Chairperson Somers, and Co-Chairperson Steinberg:
As leading safety organizations working together to pass highway and auto safety laws that prevent unnecessary crashes, deaths and injuries, and contain costs, we urge you to support House Bill (HB) 5161. This legislation will upgrade Connecticut’s seat belt law by requiring all occupants to buckle up on every trip. Considering the prevalence of unrestrained occupant fatal crashes, this legislation is critical, responsive and timely.
In 2016, 293 people were killed in traffic crashes in Connecticut, marking the largest number of traffic fatalities since 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Nearly 46 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2016 were unrestrained, when restraint use was known. Over the ten-year period of 2007 to 2016, motor vehicle crashes claimed the lives of 2,623 people on Connecticut roads (NHTSA). By any measure, this is a serious public health problem in urgent need of a remedy which HB 5161 provides.
It is critically important that a seat belt law covers both front and rear seat passengers to improve seat belt use and the safety of all occupants. When a passenger is ejected from the vehicle, their chances of survival are greatly diminished. In fatal crashes 81 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed (NHTSA). Only one percent of the occupants reported to have been using restraints were totally ejected, compared with 30 percent of unrestrained occupants. Further, the proportion of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants killed that were seated in the front seat was 47 percent, compared to 57 percent of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants killed that were seated in the rear seat (NHTSA).
Unbelted rear seat passengers pose a serious threat to the driver and other vehicle occupants. Known as “back seat bullets,” unbelted rear seat passengers can be thrust at high rates of speed into other occupants, causing fatalities and serious injuries, as well as loss of control of the vehicle. “The odds of death for a belted driver seated directly in front of an unrestrained passenger in a serious head-on crash was 2.27 times higher than if seated in front of a restrained passenger.”(i) Seat belt use in the rear seat is especially critical as the safety infrastructure built into the vehicle is not as developed in the rear seat as it is in the front seat.(ii)
Furthermore, the majority of passengers in the rear seats of vehicles are teens and children, and studies have shown that seat belt usage by teens and young adults (age 16 – 24) is among one of the lowest segments of society. Seat belt use by adults also impacts child passenger safety. Child restraint use drops by 40 percent when parents don’t use their seat belts (NHTSA).
When strong and clear traffic safety laws are passed, the public heeds them accordingly. A recent poll released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that nearly 40 percent of people surveyed said they sometimes don’t buckle up in the rear seat because there is no law requiring it. If such a law existed, 60 percent of poll respondents said it would convince them to do so.(iii) Enacting a seat belt law for all occupants will send a strong message that everyone needs to buckle up on every trip.
Seat belts not only save lives and prevent lifelong debilitating injuries, they also save taxpayer dollars. Motor vehicle crashes cost Connecticut nearly $4.9 billion annually (NHTSA). Unbelted crash victims have medical bills that are 55 percent higher than belted victims, and society bears a majority of the cost through increased insurance premiums, taxes, and health care costs (NHTSA). Unbelted occupants are also costly to businesses. Nationally, in 2013, injuries to people who were not wearing their safety belts cost employers $4.9 billion (NETS, Cost of Crashes Report 2015).
Seat belts saved the lives of 102 people on Connecticut roads in 2016, yet 18 more lives could have been saved if everyone had bucked up (NHTSA). We urge the Committee to advance this commonsense legislation to save lives, prevent injuries, and curb the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on preventable crash costs.
Connecticut Public Health Association
Emergency Nurses Association
Connecticut State Council
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
Founder and President
The Honorable Ted Kennedy, Jr., Vice-Chair
The Honorable George Logan, Vice-Chair
The Honorable Kelly Luxenberg, Vice-Chair
The Honorable Prasad Srinivasan, Ranking Member Public Health Committee Members
i Mayrose, James, Influence of the Unbelted Rear-seat Passenger on Driver Mortality: ‘‘The Backseat Bullet”, Academic Emergency Medicine, Volume 12, Issue 2. Article first published online: 28 June 2008.
ii Sahraei at al. Reduced Protection for Belted Occupants in Rear Seats Relative to Front Seats of New Model Year Vehicles, Proc AAAM, 2010.
iii Status Report, Unbelted, Vol. 52 No. 5, “Adults admit they often skip belts in rear seats”, IIHS. August 3, 2017.