Policies and Priorities: Occupant Protection

Excerpted from GHSA's Highway Safety Policies & Priorities.

D. Occupant Protection

As a behavioral factor affecting highway safety, occupant protection is a priority focus of the Association. Issues that fall into this category include, but are not limited to, safety belts, child restraint systems and air bags.

D.1 Mandatory Safety Belt Use Laws and Belt Use Policies
GHSA strongly encourages all states to adopt and enforce primary safety belt use laws that apply to all occupants in all seating positions.

All states are encouraged to continue their high visibility enforcement of safety belt laws and to conduct sustained occupant protection enforcement efforts. In addition, states should undertake nighttime enforcement campaigns since nighttime belt usage is typically lower than daytime usage.

In many, if not most states, the safety belt usage rate is such that only the most resistant person is unbuckled. These remaining holdouts require stronger measures. Consequently, GHSA encourages states to consider the assignment of drivers’ license penalty points and/or increased fines for safety belt violations. GHSA also encourages states to conduct targeted education and enforcement campaigns for high risk populations such as teens and rural populations.

GHSA urges all state highway safety offices (SHSO) require that entities contracting with the SHSO’s to initiate and maintain a mandatory safety belt use policy for that entity. This would include state and local governments, nonprofits and others.

GHSA encourages motor vehicle manufacturers to install safety belt reminder systems in all new vehicles to encourage the use of safety belts, particularly by part-time users. Additionally, GHSA urges Congress to amend current law so that manufacturers can install reminder systems without conflicting with statutory prohibitions against such systems.

D.2 Adjustable Upper Anchorages
GHSA urges manufacturers to install adjustable upper anchorages in all new model vehicles because misuse of safety belts is a frequent problem that reduces the effectiveness of these lifesaving devices, particularly for older children and short stature adults.

D.3 Child Restraints
GHSA urges the promotion of the proper use of child passenger protection systems; endorses child restraint clinics, fitting stations, other educational programs; and endorses education and awareness regarding the proper maintenance of restraints.

GHSA recommends that the motor vehicle manufacturing industry and NHTSA take additional steps to reconcile existing problems of compatibility between child restraints and the vehicles and vehicle restraint systems with which the seats are to be used. GHSA encourages these parties to maintain a close collaboration in order to prevent incompatibility problems from arising in the future.

D.4 Occupant Protection for Children
Many state child restraint laws contain gaps in coverage or provide exemptions that allow children to go unrestrained in certain circumstances. GHSA supports the closing of these gaps and urges states to enact laws that cover every child in every seating position for all vehicles.

GHSA supports the policy that rear-facing infants should never be placed in the front seat of passenger side air bag equipped motor vehicles (unless the vehicle has no rear seat but has an air bag shut-off switch.) NHTSA and GHSA members are encouraged to undertake educational campaigns to inform parents of the dangers of putting infants and young children in the front seat.

GHSA strongly concurs that children 12 years old and under, particularly those riding in vehicles with passenger side air bags, should be encouraged to sit in the rear seat of motor vehicles. In order to increase restraint use by older children, GHSA supports research and development of restraint systems for children up to and including those 12 years of age or those above 65 lbs.

Based on currently available research, GHSA believes that compartmentalization provides adequate pupil protection on school buses. GHSA does not endorse the use of three-point belts on older buses unless and until further analysis demonstrates the injury-reducing potential, cost-effectiveness and value of such an addition.

GHSA encourages states to enact booster seat legislation in order to protect young children who are too large to be placed in child restraints.

GHSA endorses the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) requirements and urges states to undertake educational programs explaining how LATCH-equipped child restraints should be used with LATCH-equipped vehicles.

GHSA encourages states to conduct assessments of their Occupant Protection for Children programs in order to ensure that they are using their federal resources strategically and in a way that meets needs.

D.5 Air Bags
GHSA urges NHTSA to test the efficacy of air bags using crash dummies of various sizes, belted and unbelted, in various positions at various speeds in order to duplicate real world crash experiences to the greatest practicable extent. GHSA further urges auto manufacturers, under the guidance of NHTSA, to develop, test and offer expeditiously advanced air bag technology that protects all-sized occupants in new model vehicles.

GHSA supports deactivation of air bags only under controlled circumstances (such as for medical conditions) in which NHTSA makes the final approval on deactivation requests in accordance with the federal regulations of November 21, 1997. GHSA also recommends establishing a registry with deactivation approval that customers of used vehicles could consult prior to purchase.

D.6 Federal Occupant Protection Training Programs
GHSA supports and encourages the certification and adoption of NHTSA’s current occupant protection curriculum by the states and the inclusion of the curriculum or its equivalent in the required training for police recruits and for the in-service training of officers. Furthermore, GHSA supports holding regional or state police fleet safety workshops in those areas where additional commitment to occupant protection on the part of law enforcement executives would be desirable.

D.7 Pickup Trucks
Ejection from the cargo space of pickup trucks accounts for needless highway safety injuries and deaths, particularly of children and teenagers. GHSA strongly encourages all states and territories to adopt and enforce laws prohibiting all passengers from riding in the cargo areas of pickup trucks.