A proposal by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to upgrade requirements for seat belt reminders is a welcome step forward, said David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“Strong seat belt reminders are an important component of the Safe System approach to transportation, and we welcome NHTSA’s proposed upgrade to the standard,” Harkey said. “The small minority of drivers and passengers who fail to use this basic piece of safety equipment account for nearly half of crash fatalities, and our research has shown that if all vehicles had persistent reminders to buckle up, it would save about 1,500 lives a year.”
Current regulations specify that seat belt reminders must include an audible signal that lasts for 4-8 seconds total and a visual alert that lasts at least 60 seconds whenever the driver’s seat belt is unbuckled. Such short reminders are easy to ignore. Meanwhile, there is no belt reminder requirement for passengers.
IIHS took note of the inadequate regulation and began publishing ratings of belt reminder systems in 2022. The program has already spurred automakers to make improvements. When the program started, less than 10 percent of vehicles earned a good rating. Now about two-thirds of vehicles recently evaluated are rated good.
“NHTSA’s proposed requirements for front and rear reminders are in many ways consistent with our own criteria for a good rating. We would like to see the agency add volume and fundamental frequency requirements to make sure auditory reminders are easy to hear above other noise in the vehicle,” Harkey said. “We also think NHTSA’s proposed implementation delays of at least one year for the front seat and two years for rear seats are unnecessary. Manufacturers have already shown they can make these improvements quickly in response to our ratings.”