Calls to make seatbelt warning signals 'more annoying' so people buckle up

There are calls for car manufacturers to make seatbelt warning bells and lights more annoying to ensure we all buckle up when getting in a vehicle.

The US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety wants warnings in all new cars to persist for at least a minute-and-a-half, but the Automobile Association here said New Zealanders still need to change their attitudes toward seatbelt wearing first. 

"Up to a quarter of the people who die on the roads each year aren't wearing a seatbelt and it's just a problem we need to solve," said AA national policy and research manager Simon Douglas.

In New Zealand seatbelts just have to be fitted and in working order.

The Motor Industry Association said there are no minimum standards for systems to alert us to buckle up.

But America's Insurance Institute for Highway Safety wants car manufacturers to increase audible and visual warnings beyond the normal few seconds.

"We want to push that audible and visual signal to last 90 seconds and for it to be loud enough - let's call it a more annoying warning that will get people to buckle up their seatbelt," said spokesman David Harkey.

It also wants compulsory visual reminders for backseat passengers.

Research has found persistent alerts can increase seat belt use by 34 percent.

"Most of the changes we are talking about is software, and so it's not a hardware change and we think most of the automakers will be able to make those changes quickly," said Harkey.

Waka Kotahi said the majority of all new vehicles entering NZ have a 5-star safety rating with intelligent seatbelt signals. 

But the average age of the NZ fleet is around 13 years old.

"What we need is a culture change. All Kiwis need to think when they are hopping in the car, don't rely on the technology. Put your seatbelt on, it's old fashioned but it really works," said Douglas.

Advice that could save the lives of 25 New Zealanders this year according to Kane Patena, Waka Kotahi director of land transport.

"Wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of being killed or seriously injured in a road crash by about 40 percent."

International research also shows the chances of surviving a crash if you are wearing a seatbelt are 60 percent greater if you are in the front, and 40 percent if you are wearing one in the back seat.