Seat belts are your car’s single most effective safety device. In 2017, they saved an estimated 15,000 lives in the U.S. By contrast, about half of the almost 43,000 people who died in car crashes in 2021 hadn’t buckled up, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
But a persistent myth among American drivers and their passengers is that in a crash, it’s much safer to be sitting in a car’s back seat—leading many people to think it’s not that important to fasten your seat belt when you ride there. In part because of this misconception, back-seat safety has taken a back seat (pun intended) to safety improvements in the front seats.
The misperceived safety of the back seat is reinforced by the legal system. All states except New Hampshire have laws requiring adult front-seat passengers to wear seat belts. But in 16 states, rear seat-belt laws either don’t exist or apply only to minors. The message? Back-seat safety isn’t really a significant issue.
The facts say otherwise: Unbelted back-seat passengers are 8 times more likely to be injured and twice as likely to be killed in a car crash than if they’d buckled up. And in a crash, unbelted back-seat passengers can become human projectiles who slam into and injure or kill other passengers.