New York Legislators Pass Rear Seat Belt Bill

By: - March 4, 2020 12:00 am

Cars drive across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. The state legislature approved a bill requiring rear seat passengers to wear a seat belt. Alexandra Schuler/The Associated Press

The New York state legislature has passed a measure that would require rear seat passengers age 16 and over, including those in ride-hailing vehicles, to wear a seat belt.

The state Senate voted 54-8 to approve the bill, which the Assembly already passed. It now heads to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has voiced support for the measure.

Under current New York law, front seat passengers need to buckle up, but only those under 16 need to wear seat belts in the rear.

Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesman for AAA Northeast, in a statement called the bill “lifesaving.”

While nearly 90% of drivers and front seat passengers in the United States use their seat belts, federal statistics show, that drops to 76% for rear seat adult passengers.

That can be deadly.

In 2018, 803 unbelted rear seat passengers age 8 and over died in crashes, according to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association. More than 400 would have survived had they worn their seat belts.

And a 2015 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by auto insurance companies, found that unrestrained passengers in the rear were nearly eight times as likely to suffer a serious injury as those who wore seat belts.

But state legislators who have tried to push for rear seat belt laws have made little headway recently.

In 2019, legislatures in eight of the 20 states that don’t require rear seat adult passengers to buckle up considered bills to do so, but only Alabama’s passed. Some lawmakers think such laws may be government overreach, and there are many other issues to focus on during busy legislative sessions.

Transportation safety officials say many passengers who ride in the back mistakenly think that it’s safe there, so there’s no reason to wear their seat belt.

That attitude needs to change, said New York Democratic state Sen. David Carlucci, who sponsored the measure that passed.

“It’s a matter of education, breaking through some of the misnomers that exist,” he told Stateline in a recent interview. “I see it all the time with my friends and family. They say, ‘We’re in the backseat, so we don’t need to wear it.’”

It’s also become fairly common for adult passengers in the back seat of ride-hailing vehicles such as Uber and Lyft not to buckle up, transportation safety officials say.

That can be dangerous not only for them but also for the driver, because they can become a projectile in a crash.

Carlucci said that’s why it was important to add ride-hailing vehicles to his bill.

“With the advent of ride-sharing and more people riding in back,” he said, “they’re in jeopardy themselves, but so are the occupants in front of them.”

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.