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Road safety groups call for stronger rear-seat regulations

Louisiana's seat belt laws are some of the toughest in the nation and require all passenger vehicle occupants to buckle up, but road safety advocacy groups say that even stricter regulations are required to protect rear-seat passengers. Advances in airbag and seat belt technology have greatly improved crash survivability for drivers and front-seat passengers, but these safety features do little to protect those seated in the rear of vehicles.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently studied 117 car accidents involving rear-seat passengers who were killed or suffered serious injuries while wearing a seat belt. They discovered that a third of them suffered serious chest injuries and almost a quarter suffered major head trauma. The nonprofit safety group says that these are the kind of injuries that may be prevented by the safety features that protect drivers and front-seat passengers.

Federal law requires car makers to protect drivers and front-seat passengers with airbags, but there is no mandate for side or curtain airbags that could protect those traveling in the back. Many rear-seat passengers are seriously injured when their seats collapse during a rear-end collision, but the standard for seat-back strength has not been updated since the 1960s. Rear seat belts also often lack safety features such as tensioners and force limiters that protect those traveling in the front of vehicles.

Seat belt use is often a contentious issue in car accident lawsuits. This is because comparative negligence laws allow juries to award reduced damages to plaintiffs who failed to do all that they reasonably could to protect themselves from injury. In situations where these arguments are likely, experienced personal injury attorneys may consult with trauma specialists to determine how wearing a seat belt would have affected the outcome. This information could help attorneys to ensure that the damages awarded to their clients are not reduced excessively.

Source: The Governors Highway Safety Association, "Seat Belts", accessed on June 8, 2019

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