Making seat belt alert tones in cars louder, longer, could save lives, experts say

There’s a new push to make seat belt alert tones in our cars louder, and last longer.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is leading the charge to push automakers to step up their game.


“Buckling that seatbelt is the most important life-saving thing that you can do when you get in a vehicle,” said David Harkley with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But U.S. Department of Transportation data shows 47% of drivers and front seat passengers killed in crashes in 2019 were not wearing seat belts.

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“That’s a really disturbing fact that we’re trying to address with these more aggressive seat belt reminders,” Harkley said.

Harkley and his team want seat belt alert tones to last longer and be louder. He said automakers are doing the bare minimum with the current federal standards. Those standards say visually, an alert must appear for 30 seconds and audibly, you only need to have a warning that lasts 4 to 8 seconds.

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IIHS rated 26 SUVs on their seat belt alerts. They labeled half poor and only two were given the good green stamp. They are hoping automakers see this and step up their game by making alerts overly annoying.

“So that is something that you cannot ignore,” Harkely said.

They want the alerts to last at least 90 seconds and be loud enough to be heard over the ambient moving vehicle noise. IIHS also wants cars to have an alert when someone in the back seat unbuckles.

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“Buckling that seat belt is the most important life-saving thing that you can do when you get in a vehicle,” Harkely said.

He is confident automakers will respond quickly and start making the changes.

“We believe we could save 1,500 lives annually on our roadways in the U.S.,” he said.

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The IIHS said in future tests for its top safety picks, it will require automakers to meet its new test standards.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.