NHTSA Proposes New Rules for Seat Belt Usage

Rule Would Impose Warning System to Encourage All Passengers to Buckle Up
A seat belt
A seat belt for the right front passenger seat. (Jenny Kane/Associated Press)

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Transportation is proposing new rules designed to encourage seat belt use by car and truck passengers, including those sitting in the back seat.

The new rules proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would require manufacturers to equip vehicles with additional seat belt warning systems for the right front passenger and for rear seats to encourage increased seat belt use.

“Wearing a seat belt is one of the most effective ways to prevent injury and death in a crash,” NHTSA Acting Administrator Ann Carlson said in a statement. “In 2021, almost 43,000 people lost their lives on America’s roads, and half of those in vehicles were unbelted. This proposed rule can help reduce that number by getting more to buckle up.”

The proposed rules would establish a visual and audio warning for the right front passenger seat that would continue until both the driver and front passenger seats have their belts buckled. For the rear seats, the rules establish a visual notice lasting at least 60 seconds of the rear seat belt status when the vehicle is started, plus an audio warning if a rear seat belt is unbuckled while the vehicle is in operation.


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Current rules require such visual and audio warnings only for the driver’s seat, but not for other seating positions.

NHTSA estimates that the proposed requirements would prevent approximately 300 non-fatal injuries and over 100 fatalities annually. They would apply to passenger cars, trucks, most buses, and multipurpose passenger vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less.

According to NHTSA statistics, seat belts reduce the risk of fatality by 55% for rear seat occupants in passenger cars and 74% for light trucks and vans. For front seat occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of fatality by 44% for passenger cars and 63% to 73% for light trucks and vans.

The proposed changes were first publicly floated in 2019. NHTSA will be taking public comment on the proposed rule for the next 60 days.

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