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Status Report, Vol. 52, No. 5 | August 3, 2017 Subscribe

Lap/shoulder belt better than lap belt alone in rear middle seat

Using a lap/shoulder belt reduces the chances of dying in a crash by 58 percent for people seated in the center rear seat of cars and 75 percent for people buckled up in minivans, pickups and SUVs, a new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report indicates. Using a lap belt alone reduces injury risk, too, though not as much as a three-point belt.

The center rear seat was the last to get lap/shoulder belts among seating positions in passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. Also known as three-point belts, lap/shoulder belts were mandated in the outboard rear seats of cars starting in model year 1990, and in pickups, passenger vans, and SUVs starting in model year 1992. It wasn't until 2005 that lap/shoulder belts were required for the center rear seat, with a phase-in extending to September 2007. Until then, many manufacturers made do with lap belts in the center rear seat.

Chuck Kahane, a former NHTSA researcher, examined 1990 to 2014 crash data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for model year 1990-2015 vehicles to estimate the effectiveness of safety belts and the relative risk of various seating positions. Kahane focused on teenage and adult occupants, not children.

Using lap belts alone reduced the risk of a fatality by 48 percent for occupants in the center rear seat of cars and by 73 percent for minivan, pickup, and SUV occupants, Kahane estimated.

For the outboard rear seat positions, using lap/shoulder belts reduced the risk of a fatality by 54 percent for car occupants and by 75 percent for occupants of minivans, pickups and SUVs. The estimates update a 1999 NHTSA report that found a 44 percent reduction in the risk of fatal injury for back-seat outboard occupants in cars and a 73 percent reduction in fatal injury risk for back-seat outboard occupants of vans and SUVs.

In the new study, side impacts accounted for a bigger proportion of deaths in cars than in minivans, pickups and SUVs, while minivans, pickups and SUVs saw more frontal impacts and rollovers than cars.

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