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Oral Remarks before the Joint Committee on Public Health, Connecticut General Assembly on House Bill 5161 - Seat Belt Use in All Positions of a Vehicle, Hartford, CT
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Hartford, CT

​Good morning, Madame Chair Gerratana, Co-Chair Steinberg, Co-Chair Somers, and Members of the Committee.  I am Bella Dinh-Zarr, a Board Member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).   I greatly appreciate the opportunity to fly in from Washington, DC, today, to appear before you.

The NTSB recommends that states require seat belt use in all vehicle seating positions equipped with a passenger restraint system and we have been making this recommendation for decades.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S. and significant accidents in other modes of transportation – railroad, pipeline, marine, and highway. The safety recommendations that arise from our investigations and safety studies are the NTSB’s most important tool for saving lives and preventing injuries.

In April 2016, I chaired an NTSB workshop, called “Rear Seat Safety in Passenger Vehicles,” which brought together leading experts in highway safety and public health to focus specifically on how to prevent injuries in rear seats.  We reviewed many countermeasures, but it was clear that seat belt laws that include the rear seat are vital.

A 2015 NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) national survey (National Occupant Protection Use Surveys - NOPUS) showed that belt use was slightly less than 75 percent (74.8%) in rear seats, compared to nearly 89 percent (88.5%) in front seats.  Average belt use in the back also was higher in states with laws requiring seat belt use in all seating positions.

As a young researcher at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) many years ago, I authored the systematic review showing that primary enforcement laws effectively increase seat belt use, and Connecticut was a leader even then. Today, covering every person in a vehicle would make your primary law even more effective and more lifesaving – for everyone. Rear passengers, who are restrained, protect not only themselves, but also everyone else in the vehicle, from being injured. While working on my PhD in public health, I volunteered in a Level 1 Trauma Center. I saw that unrestrained rear passengers became human projectiles causing severe injuries and even death to others, often their loved ones, in both the front and back seats.

Including rear seats in Connecticut’s primary law means simply making use of a technology that we already have.  Nothing must be bought or installed.  Every car manufactured today has rear belts right there, ready to be used, ready to save lives.

At the NTSB, our Go Teams rush to the scene of the most devastating transportation disasters in order to investigate so that we can try to prevent future tragedies from occurring.   In fact, I am on the Go Team today, but today, it is all of you who have the power to prevent deaths and injuries here in your state.  House Bill 5161 means strengthening Connecticut’s occupant protection law, it means encouraging the use of existing safety technology, it means saving lives and preventing injuries for the people of Connecticut.

Thank you again for giving the NTSB an opportunity to testify on this important issue.  I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.