CARS.COM — Most new cars offer loads of available safety equipment, and many features are standard, or will be soon, thanks to government mandates. That persistently annoying — but well-intentioned — beeping that happens before you buckle up might just be next. Safety advocate groups KidsAndCars.org and the Center for Auto Safety are suing the Department of Transportation, charging that it failed to keep a promise to mandate rear-seat belt reminder systems on all new vehicles.
The groups are hoping to compel the DOT to implement a law passed by Congress in 2012 that required regulators to issue a final safety standard that would amend the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to require a rear-seat safety belt warning system. The law, the so-called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), stated that a standard should be issued no later than October 2015, but no such rule has yet been proposed, according to KidsAndCars.org.
The law could save hundreds of lives annually. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half of people who die in passenger vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year are unbelted — nearly 1,000 unrestrained rear-seat passengers were killed in 2015 alone.
The statistics for children are particularly alarming. NHTSA data shows that at least 343 unrestrained children age 15 and under were killed in 2015. In most states, riding belt-free in the backseat is against the law, regardless of age. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, all rear-seat passengers are covered by laws in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Of these laws, 20 carry primary enforcement, meaning a police officer can stop a driver solely for a belt-law violation. The rest are secondary, meaning an officer must have another reason to stop a vehicle before issuing a seat belt ticket.
“To have to bring a lawsuit in federal court to compel NHTSA to simply write a regulation required by law — one that is widely recognized as having significant lifesaving potential — is, to use a word, sad,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, in a statement. “Instead of fulfilling its job as an expert safety agency on behalf of all consumers, NHTSA has spent five years hitting the snooze button. Hopefully, this action spurs a sense of urgency for something so noncontroversial.”