Cars Help Parents Say 'Buckle Up'

A friend once told me she and her husband figured they've told their kids to brush their teeth about 3,500 times. It made me wonder how many times I've done the same — and not just brush your teeth, but clear your plate, clean your room and most importantly, fasten your seat belt.

Two automakers have reduced my need to repeat myself; Volvo and Land Rover have gone above and beyond with their seat belt notifications, saving my sanity. The automakers' systems don't just provide a seat-belt light and chime (typically reserved only for front-row occupants), Volvo and Land Rover vehicles will tell you exactly who is buckled and more importantly, who isn't — even in the backseat.

In my test of the 2013 Volvo XC60, it was a nice convenience to know, with a quick glance at the instrument cluster, which passenger was buckled. "Left and right rear belts used," is the message displayed when everyone's secure, so I only have to swing into action if the belts don't get fastened.

In the 2012 Land Rover Evoque, there's a cool image showing each seating position. If the seat is green, that passenger is buckled and ready to roll. Red means the passenger is seated but not buckled.

Chevrolet's Volt has rear seat-belt reminders too, but it's the only GM vehicle to offer them. It has an icon in the instrument cluster display that shows each rear seating position, and it's gray when the seat is empty. It turns green when a rear occupant is belted. If an occupant hasn't fastened the seat belt, the icon will turn red in the corresponding position and an alert will sound.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, these systems are well-received by parents. An IIHS study showed 82% of drivers with children aged 8-15 "would support belt reminders that alert them when children in back seats aren't buckled." The report also says most people want a visual display of the seat positions and their corresponding belt use or a warning light (nice job, Land Rover). More than three-quarters said they want a chime or buzzer, and most of those respondents would want the buzzer to last until the children buckled up.

Interestingly, the IIHS reported that only 3% of 2012 models have rear-seat reminder systems. "Rear belt reminders are rare because they're a challenge, and they're not required by any government regulation," said Russ Rader, IIHS vice president of communications. Why are they a challenge? Because of the "...difficulty in distinguishing a human being needing a belt versus a child in a car seat using Latch, a heavy package or a dog or any of the things people take with them in the back seat." That makes sense, of course. But I have to wonder whether other manufacturers will start offering the systems now that Volvo, Land Rover and Chevy set the precedent.

It's interesting to see where the technology will take us and if our wishes as parents will be granted. Although a sensor that tells us if the kids have brushed their teeth is far-fetched, one that helps get the kids to buckle up is already a reality.

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