As drivers and front-seat passengers, you have heard and seen seat belt warnings. You get into the car, start the ignition, and put the vehicle into drive only to have the vehicle repeatedly ding a loud sound or flash a warning light on the dash. These warnings are relatively friendly reminders that wearing your seat belt may be required by law and is the safest way for you to ride in any vehicle. Once you are in the backseat of a vehicle, things change. There are no more warnings, which could be particularly helpful when you are consistently driving your children around.
Instead of manually turning around and checking that all of your passengers have buckled up, your vehicle could instantly tell you that someone in the rear seats has not put on their safety belt. Your vehicle likely does not have this feature because it appears the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), is dragging its heels in implementing new regulations that would require rear seat belt warnings. If you’ve been hurt in a car accident of any kind, call an Alabama car accident lawyer from Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C. right away.
In July 2012, former President Barack Obama signed into law the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). This was a multi-year funding and authorization bill, authorizing $561 million for fiscal year (FY) 2013, and $572 million for FY 2014. The law included a number of provisions regarding U.S. infrastructure and alternative transportation programs. It also included a small provision regarding seat belt warnings for occupants in rear seats. MAP-21 required the DOT to issue a final standard by October 2015 regarding this issue. It has yet to do so.
KidsAndCars.org and The Center for Auto Safety filed a lawsuit in federal court against the NHTSA, the DOT, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in August of 2017. The lawsuit claims the NHTSA and DOT have not fulfilled their duty under the MAP-21 legislation, which required the creation of regulations for the implementation of rear seat safety belt warnings. The suit is asking the court to compel the DOT to begin the rulemaking process immediately, and implement a final rule within one year.
The NHTSA and DOT are not arguing about the importance of seat belts. The NHTSA reports safety belts save thousands of lives in car crashes each year. Between 1976 and 2015, more than 343,000 lives were saved because of safety belts, and more than 368,000 more individuals would have lived had they worn them. The NHTSA has also publicly stated that parents need reminders to ensure they and their children consistently wear their seat belts. Despite the NHTSA’s and DOT’s full support for safety belts, they have yet to move forward with the requirement for vehicles to contain rear seat belt warnings.
While manufacturers wait for a requirement to add rear seat safety belt warnings and consumers wait for this crucial safety feature in their vehicles, you must take action yourself. If you or your children are riding in the back seat of a vehicle, you should all wear your seat belts. Under Alabama law, every child 15 years and younger must wear a safety belt while the vehicle is in operation. As an adult in the back seat, you are entitled to forego a seat belt.
If you are in a crash and must make a claim for compensation for you or your children’s physical injuries, the at-fault party could use the fact you or your kids were not wearing your seat belts against you. They could claim that not wearing a seat belt was negligent, and you or your children suffered injuries entirely because of not being buckled in. The at-fault party may also claim you or your children suffered aggravated injuries because of not wearing seatbelts. This is known as contributory negligence, and if a jury agrees, your financial recovery could be potentially barred.
If you were in a car accident and not wearing a seat belt, you will need the knowledge, advice, and guidance of an experienced Alabama car accident lawyer. At Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C. we understand wearing a seat belt in the back seat can be an afterthought. It is also difficult to consistently check on your adult and minor passengers to make sure they buckle up at the beginning of a trip and keep their seat belts on the entire time.
We will not let another driver who causes an accident get out of compensating you for your injuries because of a safety belt issue. Our Alabama personal injury lawyers will aggressively pursue the compensation you deserve under the law and fight back against any claims of contributory negligence. For more information about how we can help you, contact us online, or call (205) 933-1500 to schedule a case evaluation.