ATLANTA - Georgia should require all adult passengers in motor vehicles to wear seatbelts, not just those in the front seat, a state Senate study committee recommended Nov. 25.
The state’s seatbelt law, adopted in 1988, originally applied only to front-seat occupants and exempted pick-up trucks from the requirement. The law was changed in 1993 to require that minors be restrained no matter where they are sitting, and the pick-up truck exemption was eliminated in 2010.
A six-page report the study committee approved last Monday calls for extending the back-seat seatbelt requirement to both adults as well as minors. Thirty states already require all rear-seat passengers to be in seatbelts.
During several meetings, the study committee heard testimony that wearing seatbelts not only provides greater protection to rear-seat passengers but also reduces the risk of injury to those in the front seat. A 2004 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined that exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury or death to other occupants in the vehicle by 40%.
The NIH, in a 2013 study, also found that in frontal crashes, an unbelted rear-seat passenger sitting behind a belted driver increases the risk of fatality for the driver by 137%.
“The ability to not have serious injury in an automobile is greatly mitigated when you have a seatbelt on,” said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, the study committee’s chairman.
Besides increasing safety for passengers, seatbelts also reduce medical costs. In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that needless deaths and injuries resulting from not wearing seatbelts cost more than $10 billion in medical care, lost productivity and other injury-related costs.
The committee’s report also recommends doing away with a provision in state law that prohibits introducing as evidence in a civil lawsuit whether an injured occupant of a motor vehicle was wearing a seatbelt.
Tort reform advocates, including the Georgia chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, have argued juries should be made aware of whether an injured plaintiff failed to use an available seatbelt when deciding how to apportion damages.
“Transparency [is necessary] to make sure all the facts are adjudicated honestly,” Albers said.
The Senate created the study committee through a resolution sponsored by Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia. The committee report drew bipartisan support Monday, with panel members voting unanimously to report the recommendations to the full Senate.