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The Dangers of Unbelted Backseat Passengers

Making your backseat passengers buckle up will help save their lives and yours.

A study at the University of Buffalo reveals that passengers who don’t wear seatbelts significantly increase the driver’s risk of dying in an auto accident. When a car is in a head-on collision, the passenger in the backseat becomes a “backseat bullet,” shooting from his seat and slamming into the back of the driver or other passengers. Dietrich Jehle, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Buffalo says that, “the odds of death were almost three times higher for the unbelted passenger and two times higher for the driver,” in head-on collisions.

In the District of Columbia, all passengers are required to wear safety belts. However, in Virginia, only those passengers in the front seat are required to wear belts. But, as in many cases, just because the action isn’t illegal doesn’t make it a good idea.

Researchers at Buffalo ran tests with crash test dummies and found that when the passenger behind the driver is unbelted, there is a four-fold increase in the maximum force to the driver’s head and chest.

Jehle estimates that if 95% rear passengers wore seatbelts, we would save more than 800 lives a year and prevent more than 65,000 injuries. This would represent a savings of about $3.8 billion a year in the United States.

About 2,200 unbelted drivers and front seat passengers die every year.

A similar study by Britain’s RAC Foundationfound that in a crash where the vehicle was traveling at 30 mph, the unbelted backseat passenger comes out of his seat with the force of 3.5 tons. The unbelted passenger has nothing to slow him down, so he is propelled from the seat at nearly the same 30 mph speed as the car. Unbelted backseat passengers are three times more likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash than those wearing their belts.

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