Motor Vehicle Safety:

A Review of the NTSB Report on Rear Seat Lap Belt Effectiveness

RCED-88-13: Published: Nov 13, 1987. Publicly Released: Jan 5, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Safety Transportation Board's (NTSB) study that criticized the effectiveness of lap belts for rear-seat automobile passengers.

GAO found that NTSB: (1) demonstrated that lap belts could cause death or serious injury to rear-seat occupants in severe frontal crashes; (2) stated that the databases that other highway safety researchers used were flawed because information from police accident reports was inaccurate; and (3) concluded that it was unable to make a recommendation on whether rear-seat passengers should use lap belts. GAO also found that critics of the NTSB report: (1) did not dispute that lap belts could cause injury in some cases; (2) claimed that NTSB examined biased case samples; and (3) believe that because the report questions only the inaccurate databases and does not prove that lap belts are not effective, the public may believe that NTSB has proved that the lap belts are ineffective. In addition, GAO found that: (1) NTSB did not demonstrate that the data problems were so extensive that the data was unuseable; (2) NTSB should not dismiss evidence that lap belts in the rear seat are an effective safety measure; and (3) everyone agreed that lap/shoulder belts provided better protection than lap belts.

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