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Annoying or Lifesaving? IIHS Finds Seat Belt Reminders Insufficient in Most Pickup Trucks

toyota tundra limited 2022 01 dynamic exterior front angle red truck scaled jpg 2022 Toyota Tundra | photo by Christian Lantry

Despite efforts like the long-running “Click It or Ticket” campaign, many drivers still refuse to “click it” when they get behind the wheel — and pickup truck occupants are the worst offenders. That’s according to a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety evaluating the seat belt reminder systems of popular pickups. IIHS found that pickup truck occupants are less likely to be buckled compared with other vehicle types, and based on the agency’s seat belt reminder evaluation criteria, only the 2022 Toyota Tundra scores a good rating across the body style.

Related: Here’s Every Car That Earned an IIHS Top Safety Award for 2022

According to IIHS, the danger of unbuckled driving is real: While an estimated 90% of front-seat occupants report buckling up consistently, the 10% that shun the seat belt are at a much greater risk of death in the event of a crash. Previous research has shown that seat belts reduce the risk of death in front-seat occupants by 45%, and nearly half of those killed in crashes were not wearing a seat belt. Additionally, approximately one-third of pickup occupant deaths in 2020 resulted from rollover crashes, where seat belt use is critical.

As the federal campaign fails to convince 10% of occupants to buckle up, IIHS believes the more direct approach of a well-designed seat belt reminder system is the solution. According to federal standards, vehicles should have an audible signal that lasts for 4-8 seconds and a visual alert that lasts at least 60 seconds when the driver’s seat belt is unbuckled at ignition. IIHS claims that’s insufficient.

Seat Belt Alerts: The More Annoying, the Better

Chevrolet Seat Belt Warning jpg Chevrolet teen driver alert | Manufacturer image

IIHS uses more stringent criteria for judging seat belt reminder systems. The reminder alerts must be loud enough to hear over the background noise in the vehicle and should last at least 90 seconds. A visual cue should also indicate if rear-seat occupants are buckled when the vehicle is started. Finally, both an audible and visual alert should activate for at least 30 seconds if a rear seat belt is unbuckled.

The agency rates seat belt reminders as good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on the volume, duration and timing of the audible alerts. A good rated system must provide an audible and visual alert on the dashboard display, overhead panel or center console when the vehicle is moving at least 6 mph and there is an unbuckled occupant in the driver or front passenger seat. It must also activate if a rear-seat occupant unbuckles the seat belt while the vehicle is in motion.

In summary, the alerts should be made impossible to ignore, but is the annoyance worth it? According to IIHS, more persistent alerts may increase seat belt usage by 34%, saving nearly 1,500 lives a year.

The Results

IIHS evaluated 10 new pickup trucks (all 2022 crew cabs) and found that only the Toyota Tundra met all the criteria. Here’s the full list:

  • Toyota Tundra: Good
  • Hyundai Santa Cruz : Acceptable
  • Nissan Frontier: Acceptable
  • Ram 1500: Marginal
  • Toyota Tacoma: Marginal
  • Chevrolet Colorado: Poor
  • Chevrolet Silverado: Poor
  • Ford F-150: Poor
  • Ford Maverick: Poor
  • Ford Ranger: Poor

All others missed one or more of the required elements, and seven pickups scored a marginal or poor rating. The all-new Hyundai Santa Cruz and redesigned Nissan Frontier check the boxes for front-seat reminders, but earn only acceptable ratings due to their lack of rear-seat alerts. On the other hand, poor-rated vehicles including the Chevrolet Colorado and Silverado and Ford F-150, Maverick and Ranger have front-seat reminders that are shorter than the minimum duration requirements.

IIHS research indicates that vehicle owners shouldn’t rely solely on the seat belt alert system. Instead, they should make it a habit to buckle up for each trip and check that all rear-seat occupants are buckled before hitting the road. Shoppers should consider the vehicle’s seat belt reminder rating if they have concerns about rear-seat occupant safety or if they often forget to buckle up themselves.

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Former News Editor Jane Ulitskaya joined the team in 2021, and her areas of focus included researching and reporting on vehicle pricing, inventory and auto finance trends. Email Jane Ulitskaya

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