If a group of state senators has its way, all adults in a car, whether they ride in the front or back seats, will have to wear seat belts in Georgia.
That was among the recommendations in a report released by the Senate Study Committee on Passenger Vehicle Seat Safety Belts Monday.
Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said Georgia should join the “grand majority” of other states that require all adults in a car to wear seat belts.
But it should also increase the number of public service announcements it issues on seat belt safety and change the law to allow juries to consider evidence that someone wasn’t wearing a seat belt when they assess fault and apportion damages after two or more people are involved in a wreck.
Georgia passed its first law requiring the use of seat belts in 1988, according to the report. The law only applied to people sitting in the front seats. The fine was set at $15 and has not been changed since.
In 1993, the law was amended so that it applied to anybody younger than 17 whether they sat in the front or back and again in 2010 to remove an exemption for pickup trucks.
The Senate report details the cost of driving without a seat belt.
Buckling up reduces the risk of dying in a wreck by 45% in a car and 60% in an SUV, van or pickup truck, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
People who were wearing seat belts during a wreck could expect to spend about $7,000 on hospital bills on average, testified Emily Bagwell of the Georgia Association of Property and Casualty Insurance Companies. Those who were not wearing a seat belt during similar wrecks could expect to spend more than $17,000 on average.
Not wearing a seat belt endangers everyone in the car, the study notes. Citing data from the National Institutes of Health gathered in 2004, “exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury or death to other occupants in the vehicle by 40%.”
Georgia is, however, one of the best states in the nation in seat belt usage, according to the NHTSA. More than 96% percent of its front-riding passengers use them, compared to 89% nationwide.
Front and rear passengers are required to wear seat belts in 30 states, and such laws increase the rate at which people in the rear of a vehicle use seat belts. According to the report, in states with rear seat belt laws, 84% of those who ride in the back are restrained, compared to 64% of those in states without such laws.