Responding to a congressional mandate, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last month directed automakers to equip the middle back seats of their passenger vehicles with lap/shoulder belts. Half of all 2006 models and all 2008 and later models will have to comply. More than half of all 2005 models already have shoulder belts in the middle back.
The new requirement was issued in response to a federal law enacted in 2002 and named after Anton Skeen, a 4 year-old who died in a crash. The law is intended to upgrade protection for children who have outgrown car seats (see "New law directs NHTSA to develop standards for booster seats," Feb. 8, 2003). Anton's Law, as it is known, also directs NHTSA to develop test procedures and performance requirements for booster seats, which are designed for older children who have outgrown their safety seats to get a better fit using adult belts.
"Back seats are the safest place for children and all other passengers to ride, and the new requirements are intended to make sure people in back are protected by shoulder belts," says Susan Ferguson, Institute senior vice president for research. "Plus shoulder belts are essential for use with booster seats. It isn't safe to use a booster seat with a lap belt alone."
More young children are riding in back seats, NHTSA reports. In 2001 about 90 percent of crash-involved children younger than 4 were riding in the back, up from about 75 percent in 1995. The proportion of 4-7 year-olds riding in back increased from about 65 to 80 percent. At the same time, the proportion of 8-12 year-olds riding in back seats didn't change much.