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Road Safety groups want more protection for rear-seat passengers

All passenger vehicle occupants are required to fasten their seat belts in North Carolina, but research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that such laws are ignored by up to one in four rear-seat passengers. Many automotive safety features introduced in recent years greatly improve crash survivability for drivers and front-seat passengers , but they do little to protect those occupying the rear seats. This is becoming an increasingly serious road safety issue due to the growing popularity of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

After studying 117 car accidents that killed or seriously injured rear-seat passengers who were properly restrained by seat belts, the Governors Highway Safety Association found that those traveling in the rear of cars, SUVs, and minivans were especially vulnerable to major chest injuries and serious head trauma. Safety groups say that these injuries would be much rarer if car makers fitted rear seat belts with the tensioners and force limiters they use to protect restrained front-seat passengers.

Government regulators have also been criticized for not doing enough to protect rear-seat passengers. Regulations requiring auto manufacturers to protect drivers and front-seat passengers with airbags have been on the books since the 1990s, but Congress has yet to mandate side or curtain airbags that could save the lives of those traveling in the rear of vehicles. Lawmakers have also not revisited seat-back strength standards since the 1960s. Seat collapses during rear-end collisions are another major cause of injury for rear-seat passengers.

The defendants in car accident lawsuits in North Carolina often make a great issue of seat belt use when the plaintiffs were not properly restrained. This is because state law bars recovery when plaintiffs are even partially at fault. When police reports reveal that their clients were not wearing a seat belt, experienced personal injury attorneys in North Carolina may consult with trauma experts to ensure that their cases are able to withstand claims of contributory negligence.

Source: The Governors Highway Safety Association, "Seat Belts", accessed on June 8, 2019

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