Bill calls for all back-seat riders to buckle up

The laws of physics apply to people who ride in the back seat of cars, just as they do to those in front. So, it makes sense to require back-seat riders to buckle up, just as Hawaii law now requires drivers and front-seat passengers to “Click It or Ticket.”

Such is the logic of Senate Bill 4, which would require front- and back-seat passengers to wear seat belt restraints or a child passenger restraint while a motor vehicle is being operated on any public road. Currently, Hawaii law does not require adult passengers to wear seat belts in the back seat.

Retired Maui police Capt. Charles Hirata submitted testimony to the state Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee last week in favor of the bill. Hirata noted that for 11 years he commanded the Police Department’s Traffic Section and was involved in the investigation of more than 250 fatal motor vehicle crashes during that time.

“While at a crash scene, I was frequently reminded that the deaths of these people were preventable deaths,” he wrote. “You now have the opportunity to take a step in making our highways safer. In the category of unintentional injuries, motor vehicle crashes is the leading cause of death for Hawaii residents from 1999 to 2010.”

Fatal crash investigations on Maui showed that people who fail to buckle up in the back seat are often ejected in a severe crash or collide with and injure other vehicle occupants, Hirata said.

Already, 25 other states and the District of Columbia require all rear-seat passengers to buckle up, he noted.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that using shoulder belts in the back seat reduces the risk of a fatal injury during a crash by 44 percent in cars and 73 percent in vans. Unbelted passengers increase injury or death risks for other vehicle occupants by 40 percent, Hirata said.

Maui County Police Chief Gary Yabuta supported the measure in written testimony.

“It is a step in the right direction to encourage safety and the prevention of preventable deaths and injuries in traffic accidents as a result of back-seat passengers not wearing their seat belts,” he said. “Numerous studies have supported the positive results of seat belt usage by all passengers in a vehicle for decades.”

In written testimony, Wailuku paramedic David Kingdon told lawmakers that the bill requiring back-seat passengers to buckle up “is critical to assuring the public health of our citizens and visitors.”

“As a paramedic, I can attest that the kinetic forces applied during a motor vehicle crash do not discriminate based on where a person is sitting,” Kingdon said. “In fact, an unrestrained person can himself or herself become a projectile that may injure or kill other parties within the vehicle who are restrained.”

Written testimony in favor of the measure also was submitted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii, the Honolulu Police Department and the state departments of Health and Transportation.

“Wearing a seat belt is an individual’s best defense against death or serious injury in a sudden, violent and destructive crash with a vehicle operated by an alcohol- or other drug-impaired driver,” said Arkie Koehl on behalf of MADD.

Health Department Director Dr. Loretta Fuddy reported that crash data from 2007 to 2010 show more than half of the victims in fatal crashes were not wearing a seat belt – 52 percent, or 100 of the 193 victims. Of the fatally injured victims who were back-seat passengers, 75 percent were not wearing a seat belt, nine of 12. Also, back-seat passengers were more likely to ride unrestrained than people in the front of the vehicle, she said.

The state Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee also received at least half a dozen other written testimonies in favor of the bill and two opposed, although available online records did not detail the reasons for their opposition.

The bill, introduced by Windward and North Shore Oahu Sen. Clayton Hee, has been advanced by the state Senate committees on Transportation and International Affairs and Judiciary and Labor. The measure is expected to cross over to the state House of Representatives early next month.

* Brian Perry can be reached at