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Passenger use of and attitudes toward rear seat belts

Jermakian, Jessica S.; Weast, Rebecca A.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
August 2017

Objectives: Seat belt use in the rear seat is consistently lower than belt use in the front seat. This study sought to identify attitudes toward belt use in the rear seat and to gain insight into the experiences of rear-seat passengers and part-time belt users or nonusers.
Method: A telephone survey targeted adults who had ridden as a passenger in the rear seat within the preceding six months and who did not always wear their seat belt when doing so. Respondents were questioned regarding their reasons for not buckling up and possible conditions under which they would be more likely to buckle up during future rear-seat travel.
Results: Of the 1,172 respondents who had recently ridden in the rear seat, 91 percent said they always used their seat belt in the front seat, but only 72 percent reported always using their seat belt in the back seat. Full-time rear-seat belt use was lower among passengers who primarily travel in the rear of taxis and other hired vehicles (57%) compared with passengers who travel most often in the rear of personal vehicles (74%). The 316 respondents who reported part-time belt use or nonuse were asked to explain why they don’t use belts. The most common response was that the back seat is safer than the front. Four out of five respondents agreed they do not use the seat belt because of the type of trip (e.g., short distances or in a hired vehicle); two-thirds agreed with statements indicating they forget or do not see the need to buckle up; and two-thirds agreed with reasons related to design, comfort, or usability issues. Nearly 40 percent agreed that they sometimes do not buckle up in the rear seat because there is no law requiring it.
Discussion: Many reasons for not using the seat belt in the rear seat are similar to reasons in the front seat, such as forgetfulness, inconvenience, or discomfort. One notable difference is that many rear-seat passengers perceive wearing the seat belt as unnecessary because the back seat is safer than the front. More than half of part-time belt users and nonusers reported interventions such as rear seat belt reminders, stronger belt-use laws and more comfortable belts would make them more likely to use their seat belt in the rear seat.