Youth Seat Belt Legislation in Iowa | Protecting All Iowa Youth

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Youth Seat Belt Legislation

Iowa Should Set a Public Safety Standard that Protects All Iowa Youth

Teenagers have a higher crash risk than all other age groups in the United States. This can be attributed to both driving inexperience and a greater propensity for risk-taking behaviors. Also, teens often ride with other teens. Because of these factors, this age group faces substantially elevated risks for injury and death from traffic crashes.

Teenagers' failure to wear seat belts compounds their already higher crash risk. Studies have routinely shown that seat belt use among teenagers is lower than among older age groups, and lower among teenage passengers than among teenage drivers.

Data on motor vehicle crashes from the Iowa Department of Transportation reveal the following:

  • From 2004 to 2007, a total of 1,823 injuries were reported for unbelted youth age 0-17. Of that total, 16% of the reported injuries occurred in the 0-10 age range (covered by the current child restraint law) and 84% of the injuries were in the 11-17 group (currently not covered by a seat belt law if riding in the back seat).*
  • Fatality data parallel the injury data for the same time frame and ages. Of the 71 reported unbelted fatalities, 15% occurred in the 0-10 age group (covered by child restraint law) and 85% in the 11-17 group (not covered when riding in the back seat).*
  • From 2002 - 2006, of the 11-17-year-old back seat passengers who were injured and required hospitalization, 68% were unbelted compared to 32% who were belted. Hospital costs for the unbelted teens comprised 77% of total hospital charges compared to 23% for those who were buckled up.

Despite widespread Knowledge of the risks involved, teens do not routinely wear seat belts when riding in the back seat.

  • In 2006, 1,215 Iowa high school students (ages 14-17) were surveyed regarding current seat belt practices. While 83% of respondents indicated they always or usually wear their seat belt while driving; only 30% of the students said they always or usually wear their seat belt when they are riding in a vehicle as a back-seat passenger.
  • In two observation surveys conducted at Iowa high schools in 2004, back-seat belt use ranged from 25% to 47%.
  • Nationally in the years between 1995-2000, belt rate among fatally injured teenage passengers (age 16-19) was 23%.

Iowa parents of teen drivers indicate support seat belt requirements for individuals riding with new teen drivers.

  • In an October 2009 survey, Iowa parents of 16- and 17-year-olds were asked; do you think all passengers riding with a newly licensed teen driver should be required to wear a safety belt? 99% answered yes.

Back-seat passengers pose a risk not only to themselves but to other passengers in the vehicle.

  • A driver's risk of death is 2.27 times higher when there is an unbelted rider sitting behind him or her. [Influence of the Unbelted Rear-seat Passenger on Driver Mortality: "The Backseat Bullet" James Mayrose, PhD, Dietrich Jehle, MD, Marc Hayes, BS, Dylan Tinnesz, MD, Gina Piazza, DO and Gregory E. Wilding, PhD, From the Departments of Emergency Medicine (JM, DJ, MH, DT, GP) and Biostatistics (GEW), State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.]

Seat belts are effective in reducing fatalities.

  • Lap/shoulder belts, when used in the back seat of a car, are 44% effective in reducing fatalities. When used in passenger vans and sport utility vehicles they are 73% effective in reducing fatalities. [Report Number DOT HS 808 945 June 1999, Effectiveness of Lap/Shoulder Belts in the Back Outboard Seating Positions, Christina Morgan]
  • A 2007 study which looked at 10,736 crashes with back-seat passengers estimates that rear-seat occupants who wear a seat belt, compared with those who do not, can reduce their risk of death by approximately 60% in a car and 70% in a light truck. [Association of rear seat safety belt use with death in a traffic crash: a matched cohort study, Zhu et al, Inj. Prev. 2007;13;183-185]

Iowa's public safety standards should create a consistent safety culture.

  • 44 states cover youth passengers under the age of 16 with a seat belt requirement.
  • This legislation provides consistency and proper guidance for parents. It is inconsistent to say we believe it is important for children through the age of 10 to be appropriately restrained but not once they turn 11.
  • Many parents report that they have no control over whether or not their teens wear a seat belt in the back seat once they are in the car with other drivers. A more comprehensive policy would at a minimum provide some form of incentive for all youth to buckle up regardless of who is driving.

*These figures do not distinguish between front-seat and back-seat passengers.