One of my most vivid memories from childhood is riding in the car with my parents. My dad drove, always, and my mom was by his side in the passenger’s seat. I was always in the back seat. Well, not actually in the seat but kneeling or standing up with my chin on the front row eager to hear everything my parents had to say.
I, like a lot of you reading this I’m sure, grew up in a time when seat belt use was minimal or non-existent. Looking back on those days, as a boy no older than eight or nine years old, I count my lucky stars that I was never hurt or killed in a car crash. It is inconceivable to me that there was a time in my life when I didn’t always wear a seat belt in a vehicle.
Thankfully, in 1986, Connecticut passed a mandatory front seat, seat belt law. That forced my parents to wear their belts up front and it convinced them to make sure I was always buckled up in the back. Ever since then, I have always worn my seat belt. Unfortunately even in 2016 not everyone does.
According to a study rercently released by AAA, almost one in five drivers (17.8 percent) report having driven without wearing their seat belt in the past 30 days, with over 15 percent doing it more than once and over 5.5 percent driving without a seat belt fairly often or regularly. Those numbers blow my mind. With all that we know now about the safety benefits of seat belts, I can’t fathom how people don’t always wear them.
“Unfortunately many passengers will not change their behavior unless there is a legal consequence,” said Garrett Townsend, Georgia Public Relations Director of AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Because of this attitude, the easiest and most cost effective way to save lives and prevent injuries is to improve the current seat belt law to cover all vehicle occupants.
In 2016, 28 states in the U.S. have seat belt laws that cover all passengers. Georgia is not one of them.
The law here requires that passengers between the age of 6 and seventeen wear safety belts in all seats, but for people 18 and over, seat belts are only required in the front seat. So, if you are an adult you are not required to wear a seat belt in the back seat.
As far as safety is concerned, does that matter? Yes, it means a lot.
Passengers in the back seat are three times more likely to die in a crash if they are unbuckled, according to a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association. Nationally, seat belt use by adult rear seat passengers is only 78 percent, compared to 87 percent for the front seat passenger.
The numbers in Georgia are not good. Our state ranks sixth in the nation in unrestrained passenger fatalities according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
We have work to do. We need to get more and more people to wear their seat belts at all times in the car and it might be time that we join the other 28 states that mandate seat belts to be worn at all times, in both the front and back seats.
It’s not 1981 anymore. We know better.
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Gridlock updatesMark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.