Consumer groups sue feds for ignoring Obama-era seat belt rule

Consumer groups sue feds for ignoring Obama-era seat belt rule
© Greg Nash

A pair of consumer groups is suing the Department of Transportation (DOT) for failing to implement an Obama-era rule requiring seat belt warnings for passengers in the back seat.

The Center for Auto Safety and KidsAndCars.org are challenging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for missing a deadline to require automakers to install rear-seat warning technology in all future vehicles.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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Then-President Obama signed a highway law in 2012 that required the NHTSA to issue a final rule by October 2015 mandating the rear-seat reminder system. But nearly two years after the required deadline, the agency — under both Obama and now President Trump — has yet to start the rulemaking process on the issue.

“The importance of seat belts in saving lives is indisputable. Everything possible should be done to ensure that all passengers are correctly restrained all the time; on every ride,” said Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org. “It’s time for NHTSA to stop stalling and the auto industry to begin installing.”

The issue is being brought up at a time when traffic fatalities have been growing at historic rates, with nearly 40,000 people dying on U.S. roads last year.

Seat belts are known to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries. In the back seat, unrestrained passengers are almost eight times as likely to sustain a serious injury in a crash as restrained rear-seat occupants, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Yet 28 percent of adults say they don’t wear their seat belt all the time when they're in the back seat, while 4 out of 5 of those respondents say that they don’t wear a safety belt when they take short trips or use a taxi or ride-hailing service, according to the same report.

The consumer groups are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in order to prod the NHTSA into rulemaking.

“To have to bring a lawsuit in federal court to compel NHTSA to simply write a regulation required by law — one that is widely recognized as having significant lifesaving potential — is, to use a word, sad,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.