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Opening Statement - Rear Seat Safety in Passenger Vehicles Workshop, Washington, DC
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC

​Good morning and welcome to the Board Room of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and to this workshop on Rear Seat Safety in Passenger Vehicles. Thank you to all of our invited participants for taking the time – and in some cases traveling many miles – to lend us your diverse expertise and insights today.

You represent an international “Who’s Who” of occupant protection experts, drawn from the auto industry, the research community, safety advocates, and the government. Occupant protection in passenger vehicles has long been a passion of mine, so I have been fortunate enough to meet some of you, and to know others of you through your work. Once again, welcome.

I also would like to recognize Michele Beckjord of our Office of Highway Safety, who led the team that worked so hard to structure this workshop and to bring you all together.

This year the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements includes strengthening occupant protection, and this topic has been on our list in one form or another many times over the years.

And time and again, in every mode of transportation, we have recommended ways to do just that.

Now, we at the NTSB, with your help, are looking for ways to strengthen occupant protection in passenger vehicles, specifically in the rear seat.  The rear seat is sometimes overlooked and it is also sometimes where our most vulnerable passengers – children and older people – choose to sit.

The automotive industry has generated a steady stream of improvements in occupant protection, and federal and state governments have crafted the regulations, standards, and laws that have made these improvements the norm.  Where protection depends on the behavior of the occupant - safety advocacy, legislation, and enforcement efforts have helped to change behavior for the better.  We cannot overstate the importance of seatbelt laws, particularly primary seatbelt laws in saving lives and preventing injuries.  All states except New Hampshire have a seat belt law.  34 states and DC allow primary enforcement of their front seat belt laws.  Of the states with primary laws, only 18 states and DC cover occupants in all seating positions.

We all recognize that vehicles are safer today than they were 10 years ago but we also recognize that we can do better.  In 2014, 21,022 occupants were killed in motor vehicle crashes, nearly half of them unrestrained, and even more of them unrestrained among rear seat passengers.

Safety improvements for front seat occupants have included advanced airbags, advanced belt pretensioners and load limiters, and belt reminder systems.

The rear seat environment is different from the front, both in design and user demographics. Increases to vehicle mass and stiffness may have different effects for front and rear seating positions. We have brought together some of the most important voices in the conversation on rear seat safety to take advantage of your wealth of knowledge about this unique environment and the technologies that can offer novel solutions, but also to bring you all together in one setting. Working together, we want to begin to chart a course forward to protect people in every position within a vehicle.

What is available to help protect the rear seat passenger today, and what is on the drawing board for tomorrow? What might be the unintended consequences of any of these ideas? What are the challenges to increasing public acceptance? How can research, engineering, and advocacy efforts be coordinated to facilitate a broader change in culture resulting in more use of rear seat restraints?

Today’s workshop is designed to allow sharing of experience and knowledge, but also to encourage you to collaborate on innovative strategies. We are here to listen to all of your voices and to learn from you. Just as importantly, we want you to hear each other’s voices. We look forward to an open and frank discussion of this topic from all perspectives.

I look forward to today’s collaborative work toward developing life-saving solutions.

I will now turn the microphone over to Michele Beckjord.