Time is right to buckle up in back seat

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted6/12/2011 12:01 AM

Suburban culture is dominated by the automobile. The rite of passage of 16-year-olds getting driver's licenses. The daily trips Mom or Dad take shuttling the kids to their varied activities. The expressways that bisect our communities north, south, east and west, filled with drivers getting to and from their suburban workplaces. Yes, we love our cars.

With that in mind, we support the latest law that would make it safer to ride in those cars. Gov. Pat Quinn has on his desk a law approved by the General Assembly that would make rear seat-belt usage mandatory for all passengers. We urge him to allow Illinois to join 25 other states and the District of Columbia by signing that bill.

Legislators approved the law on a bipartisan basis. Suburban representatives and senators were split on it. We understand some of the concerns, as raised by Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, in a story last week by staff writer Jeff Engelhardt.

"I encourage everyone to wear a seat belt because it does save lives," Dillard said. "I just think we are pushing the envelope on Big Brother government. ... Where does it stop?"

Good question, but we don't believe it stops here. Illinois already mandates that drivers and front-seat passengers buckle up. It already mandates that young children be secured in child-restraint systems or booster seats. And it requires older children under 19 to buckle up wherever they sit.

It is only natural, then, that adults in the back seat should have to buckle up too. Statistics have proved that seat-belt usage saves lives.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts saved 13,000 lives in 2008 and 75,000 lives between 2004 and 2008. Experts say rear-seat passengers can become projectiles in crashes, potentially causing more injuries and deaths as they slam into other passengers. In 2009, 1,095 back seat passengers not wearing seat belts were killed nationwide.

And by requiring seat-belt usage everywhere, adults then are setting a good example for children to follow as they become adults.

Given the high usage of seat belts in the suburbs already, we don't anticipate this being a big deal for most passengers.

An Illinois Department of Transportation study, as Engelhardt reported, found that drivers and front-seat passengers in the suburban counties of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will had a 94.2 percent seat belt usage rate. It's a testament to how, in the last 20 years, using seat belts has become a standard practice. Rear seat-belt use will become just as standard.

"This will make a difference. It's a good safety rule," said Gurnee Police Cmdr. Jay Patrick.

IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffmann agreed. "The primary safety belt law has proved to work, and we look forward to this."

So do we, and we hope Quinn does too.