When Jake Reis heard a friend of his was ejected from the back seat of a car and nearly killed, he knew he had to do something.
That ‘something’ was a YouTube campaign he created to try to change Florida’s seat belt laws, which do not require passengers 18 and older to wear a seat belt in the back seat. Florida law requires passengers in the front seat to wear a seatbelt or be fined $30; the violation for a child not being properly restrained is $60.
“It's been about a year, and since then, we have seen tremendous growth,” said Reis, 18, a senior at Christopher Columbus High School. “I'm definitely seeing a change in behavior in my friends and people around me and how they treat seat-belt safety.”
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people age 5-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young adults — age 18-34 — have the highest crash-related injury rates of all adults.
Not surprisingly, these same 18- to 34-year-olds are almost 10 percent less likely to wear a seat belt than those 35 and older, the CDC reports.
“I know the name “Do it in the Back Seat” is a little risqué, but it gets people's attention. It gets people talking about seat-belt safety, so I'm willing to push the envelope if it potentially saves lives,” said Reis, who is a member of six honor societies, a member of the varsity lacrosse team and was a Silver Knight nominee in Social Science.
More than 21,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2014, and more than half of the teens (13-19) and adults (20 to 44) who died were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The ultimate goal is for everyone to wear a seat belt.A seat belt could be the difference between life and death. I’ve seen people survive an accident just because they were wearing a seat belt.
Florida Highway Patrol Spokesman Joe Sanchez
Unrestrained passengers are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle, according to the CDC. Not only do unrestrained back-seat passengers risk their own lives, but they also risk the lives of front-seat passengers by fivefold. Yet, Florida is one of 22 states that does not require passengers 18 years or older to buckle up in the back seat.
Florida ranks second in the nation for traffic accident deaths involving people not wearing a seat belt, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. California is ranked first. States that have primary seat belt laws could see the number of deaths drop by 17 percent, according to a Reuters Health research study.
“The ultimate goal is for everyone to wear a seat belt,” said Florida Highway Patrol Spokesman Joe Sanchez. “A seat belt could be the difference between life and death. I’ve seen people survive an accident just because they were wearing a seat belt.”
Reis created a PSA video on YouTube to promote his campaign., featuring real people in the backseat who spout statistics on injuries and fatalities of unrestrained back-seat passengers. He also created a website, www.Doitinthebackseat.com, where you can sign a petition and take a pledge to always wear your seat belt, even in the back seat.
Reis is shooting to collect 5,000 to 10,000 signatures on the petition to send to Tallahassee legislators. So far, he has more than 1,000 signatures online and a few hundred in print.
“Anybody can sign the petition. All you need is your name and an e-mail address on the petition. We accept signatures all around. A name is a name, and if enough people believe in a cause, it’s just sending a message,” Reis said.
In March 2016, Javier Cabarrocas experienced a life-changing accident. He was a back seat passenger in a Ford Crown Victoria when his friend lost control on a rainy night and slammed into a pole off U.S. 1 and Granada Boulevard in Coral Gables.. Cabarrocas was not wearing a seat belt and he suffered a broken eye socket, broken jaw and a shattered skull in nine different places. The doctors saved Cabarrocas’ life, reconstructing his jaw and adding nine plates and 12 screws into his head.
“If I made a mistake the night of my accident, it was getting into the car without my seat belt on,” said Cabarrocas, 22, a Christopher Columbus High School alumnus.“If I had buckled up, I probably wouldn’t have had to go through anything that I’ve gone through. It’s taught me to buckle up all the time, no matter how far I’m going or where I’m seated.”
“If you believe in the cause, please check out the website and sign the petition. It’s a huge issue. A seat belt can truly save a life,” said Reis.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.
To learn more about the seat-belt campaign in the back seat, go to www.Doitinthebackseat.com.