February 28, 2017
The Honorable Joseph Lenthol
Chair, Codes Committee
New York State Assembly
Legislative Office Building, Room 630
Albany, New York 12248
Dear Chairman Lenthol:
New York has a proud history of being a traffic safety leader by becoming the first state in the country to enact a primary enforcement seat belt law for drivers and front seat passengers in 1984. Primary enforcement permits police to stop and cite violators without a requirement to first observe an additional violation. However, since taking action to protect front seat occupants, the state has yet to improve the law to include rear seat occupants. We urge you to support Assembly Bill (A.) 1582, sponsored by Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-57), and Senate Bill (S.) 2928, sponsored by Senator Martin Malave Dilan (D-18), to upgrade the seat belt law to require all occupants to buckle up. Additionally, the measure is included as a provision in the Transportation Budget Bills, A. 9508, Part G, section 7, and S. 7508, Part G, section 7, currently pending the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
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 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)). Restraint use greatly reduces the likelihood that an occupant will be ejected. Only one percent of the occupants reported to have been using restraints were totally ejected, compared with 30 percent of unrestrained occupants. The proportion of unrestrained front seat passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in 2016 was 47 percent, compared to 57 percent of unrestrained rear seat passenger vehicle occupants killed (NHTSA). In fact, unbelted rear seat passengers are three times more likely than belted rear seat passengers to die in a crash.[i]
Research by the Center for Transportation Injury Research at the University of Buffalo found unbelted rear seat passengers pose a serious threat to the driver and other vehicle occupants as well as themselves. Unbelted rear seat passengers are known as “back seat bullets,” because they 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 chance 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.”[ii]
Lack of a rear seat belt law particularly impacts our most vulnerable passengers, children. Teens and children comprise the majority of rear seat occupants, 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. Children are 40 percent less likely to be properly restrained when parents don’t buckle up (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] Furthermore, seat belt use in the rear seat is vital as the safety infrastructure built into the vehicle is not as developed in the rear seat as it is in the front seat.[iv]
Unbelted occupants are a serious public health problem in urgent need of the remedy that A. 1582/S. 2928 provides. Nearly 35 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in New York in 2016 were unrestrained, when restraint use was known. Seat belts saved the lives of 395 people on New York roads in 2016, yet 47 more lives could have been saved if everyone had buckled up (NHTSA).
Thirty-four years ago the New York Legislature took a bold move to improve safety on its roads. Now is the time to take the next logical step by advancing this commonsense legislation to save lives and prevent injuries. In 2016, 1,025 people were killed on New York roads. Far too many lives are being lost when a proven solution is available. We urge you to improve traffic safety by advancing A. 1582/S. 2928 and supporting the seat belt upgrade provision in A. 9508/S. 7508.
National Highway Traffic
Advocates for Highway
and Auto Safety
cc: Assembly Codes Committee Members
[i] Hedlund, James, Unbuckled in Back: An Overlooked Issue in Occupant Protection. November, 2015. Governor’s Highway Safety Association. Available at: https://www.drivingskillsforlife.com/images/pressrelease/pdf/RearBelts_FINAL.pdf
[ii] 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.
[iii] Status Report, Unbelted, Vol. 52 No. 5, “Adults admit they often skip belts in rear seats”, IIHS. August 3, 2017.
[iv] Sahraei at al. Reduced Protection for Belted Occupants in Rear Seats Relative to Front Seats of New Model Year Vehicles, Proc AAAM, 2010.