Three-point seat belts are effective at reducing fatalities for center rear seat passengers in cars and light trucks, a study shows. The benefit is more dramatic in passenger cars than in light trucks or SUVs, the report says.
Ten years after it became mandatory for automakers to install three-point seat belts in the rear middle seat, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it finally had enough data to look at the effectiveness of the regulation. Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for 1990 through 2014 showed that, in cars, the seat belts reduced fatalities by an estimated 58 percent for center rear seat occupants, vs. 48 percent for a lap belt only.
In light trucks, a three-point seat belt reduced fatalities by an estimated 75 percent for occupants in a center rear seat compared to 73 percent for a lap belt only.
Three-point seat belts also reduced fatality risk for outboard rear seats by 54 percent in cars and by 75 percent in light trucks, the study added.
The study, released earlier this month, was based on 1,512 cases of center rear seat passengers riding in vehicles equipped with a three-point seat belt.
Lap belts have been known to cause injuries since the 1950s. The center buckle can damage internal organs, and the force of a crash combined with the use of just a lap belt can cause serious head and neck injuries.
Three-point seat belts were invented by Nils Bohlin, a Volvo engineer in the late 1950s. By mid-1959, Bohlin's invention was used in Volvos sold throughout Europe and was added to U.S. Volvos in the mid-1960s. Volvo then made the patent available to other automakers in the interest of safety.
The belts became standard in the U.S. in the late 1960s for front-seat passengers. In 2002, NHTSA issued a regulation requiring three-point seat belts for each rear seating position, including center rear seats, in new vehicles by Sept. 1, 2007.
Prior to 2005, three-point seat belts were required only at outboard seats of cars and light trucks in the U.S., while lap seat belts were allowed for center rear seats.
The study noted that the findings on seat belt effectiveness pertained "almost exclusively to adult and adolescent occupants." NHTSA recommends that passengers 12 and younger ride in rear seats, protected by an age-appropriate restraint system.
In January, NHTSA estimated that 27,875people died in traffic crashes in the U.S. during the first nine months of 2016, an 8 percent increase over the same period in 2015.
Projections of traffic deaths for 2016 in the U.S. are to be released in late March, NHTSA said.