Pam Fischer, the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety Director, uses this imagery-laden language to describe an unbuckled rear-seat passenger in a car accident: The unbelted rider is “a back-seat bullet” moving at the same speed as the vehicle until it hits something.
New Jersey is intent on reducing that added element of danger in a motor vehicle crash. Responding to an anomaly in which front-seat belt use in the state recently rose to an all-time high of almost 94 percent at the same time that rear-seat belt usage dropped five points to 27 percent, the state passed a new law mandating that all adults riding in back seats use their belts. New Jersey’s is a “secondary” and not a “primary” law, meaning that unbuckled back-seat riders cannot be ticketed unless the car is stopped initially for some other traffic offense.
The Insurance Institute, an organization that focuses on reducing deaths and injuries in car crashes, readily endorses such enforcement efforts. Michel Fields, an Institute spokesperson, states that, “The most important thing you can do in any vehicle at any time is wear your seat belt in all seating positions.”
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) concurs, estimating that seat belts saved the lives of more than 13,000 drivers in 2008.
Here are a few relevant statistics from the NHTSA. The administration states that seat belt use nationally in 2009 ranged from a low of 68 percent in Wyoming to 98 percent in Michigan. Numbers from the year before show a 74 percent use rate for rear-seat belts, with a corresponding figure of 83 percent for front-seat belt use.