Backseat Riders Need Seatbelts, Too

Unrestrained Occupants Can Be Deadly to Others During a Car Crash

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 20, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 20, 2004 -- Buckling up is not only vital to your own safety when in a car, but new research shows it's also critical to the safety of the other passengers.

The study shows that unrestrained occupants raise the risk of death for others riding in the same vehicle by up to 22% when crashes occur.

Researchers say the risk of crash-related deaths is lowest when all occupants of a vehicle are restrained using seatbelts or car seats for children and infants.

"A car occupant could be killed if struck by another occupant who was catapulted forward, backward, or sideways in a crash," write researcher Peter Cummings, MD, MPH, and Frederick P. Rivara, MD, MPH, of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle. "Persons who wish to reduce their risk of death in a crash should wear a restraint and should ask others in the same car to use their restraints."

Seatbelt vs. Death

In the study, published in the Jan. 21 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the association between the death of a car occupant and the use of restraints, either a seat belt or child car set, of another occupant in the same car based on fatal accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The found the risk of death was higher for the other occupants of the car if someone else was unrestrained, no matter where they were sitting. For example:

  • For someone in the front seat wearing a seatbelt, the risk of death rose by 20% if someone behind them was unrestrained.
  • For a restrained passenger in the rear seat, the risk of death increased by 22% if someone in front of them was unrestrained.
  • For someone with a seatbelt on one side of the car, the risk of death rose by 15% if someone in the same seat row was unrestrained.

Based on those findings, researchers say that use of a seatbelt among rear-seat occupants could prevent about one in six deaths of front-seat passengers caused by car crashes.

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SOURCE: Cummings, P. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 21, 2004; vol 291: pp 343-349.

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