Only one state doesn’t require most or all children to wear seat belts when riding in the back seat of a vehicle — Oklahoma.
Safety advocates want to change that.
Too many children are dying and being maimed in traffic accidents on state roads. Vehicle collisions are the No. 1 cause of death for Oklahoma children age 8 and older, The Oklahoman reported recently. In 2017, 16 Oklahoma children in that age range died, and 67 were injured in vehicle collisions, according to Oklahoma Highway Safety Office data.
And a lot of those kids aren’t wearing seat belts. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that of the children 12 years old and younger who died in crashes in 2017 (for which restraint use was known), 35% were not buckled up.
Changing state law to require back seat children to wear seat belts has been proposed in the past, but it hasn’t gone anywhere in the Oklahoma Legislature. Sen. Carri Hicks has promised to bring the idea back to lawmakers next year. Her bill should be considered, debated and passed.
Will changing Oklahoma’s law make a difference? The National Highway Traffic Administration reports laws make a difference. NTHSA data shows states with tough primary seat belt laws see far higher rates of seat belt use. Laws that allow drivers to be pulled over just for failing to buckle up have achieved seat belt use rates above 92%. States without such laws achieved rates of only 83%.
Kids test boundaries as they get older. Children who grow up riding in car seats, resist the rules of the road as they enter their tweens. Parents, never planning to have an accident, give in. Usually, the result is benign, but occasionally it is tragic.
A state law mandating seat belt use by any child in a car gives parents more motivation to insist their children buckle up. If changing the law saves one child’s life, it’s obviously worth it.