Passengers who don't buckle up pose a danger not only to themselves, but to everyone else in the vehicle, including drivers.

According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, your risk of dying in a crash may increase by as much as 26 percent if your passengers don't wear their safety belts--even if you wear yours. The force of a crash can catapult an unrestrained occupant forward, backward or sideways. Those moving bodies become projectiles, and other passengers wearing safety belts become targets.

Drs. Peter Cummings and Frederick P. Rivara of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle, Wash., examined more than 60,000 fatal accidents involving only passenger cars over a 12-year period. They found that the fatality risk for front-seat occupants with belted back-seat passengers just about equaled that for front-seat occupants with no one sitting behind them. However, the risk to front-seat occupants jumped 21 percent when back-seat passengers didn't buckle up.

Back-seat passengers ran similar risks when front-seat occupants didn't wear safety belts. For various combinations of seating position and safety belt use, the danger varied with the direction and angle of the crash.

The researchers concluded, "Persons who wish to reduce their risk of death in a crash should wear their own restraint and should ask others in the same car to use theirs."

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