The long-standing belief that the back seat is the safest place for passengers may no longer be true. Although there have been a wide range of advances in safety technology in recent years, including improvements in seat belt technology, those improvements have focused primarily on seat belts for front seat passengers. In addition, backseat passengers are less likely to wear their seat belts compared with front seat passengers. This can have devastating consequences during car accidents, both for the unbelted backseat passenger and the occupants of the front seat, including the driver and the front seat passenger. According to safety experts, car manufacturers have not paid enough attention to backseat safety, and there has been a lack of urgency from regulators. However, new rear seat belt technology is being developed that will provide improved safety features for backseat passengers, including children and ride-sharing passengers.
What Makes the Back Seat Less Safe Than the Front Seat?
According an automotive safety engineer at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center, when backseat passengers do not wear their seat belts, not only are they putting themselves at risk, but they are endangering the lives of the front seat passengers. Even though sitting in the back seat puts added distance between the backseat passenger and the potentially devastating force of a frontal crash, in no way does it provide any protection from the impact of an accident. In addition, in the event of a serious accident, unrestrained backseat passengers can become projectiles that can cause the driver or front seat passenger to suffer serious, even fatal injuries.
Even backseat passengers who do consistently use seat belts may not be as safe as they thought. Although improvements have been made to front seat belt technology, these same advances are not yet available in rear seat belts. That means that belted backseat passengers may be at an increased risk of being fatally injured in a car accident, compared with front seat passengers who wear their seat belt. There are some vehicles that offer a more sophisticated rear seat belt option that automatically tightens if a crash is imminent. However, this technology is not widely available. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urges passengers over the age of 55 to sit in the front seat if the vehicle in which they are riding is not equipped with this improved seat belt technology in the back seat.
According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, rear seat belts often lack load limiters, which allow the seat belt to loosen, which minimizes belt-inflicted injuries. Their study investigated frontal crashes that caused serious injuries or fatalities in 117 backseat occupants who were between the ages of six and 92. They found that the rear seat belt can cause chest, abdominal, or spinal injuries. Despite the lack of load limiters, these seat belts meet current federal safety standards. With more people using ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and an increasing number of older drivers who are giving up driving, the back seat is likely to be occupied more often. As a result, backseat safety should be more of a priority.
What Backseat Safety Improvements can Motorists Expect to See?
As the auto industry and safety regulators learn more about the importance of backseat safety technology, researchers and car manufacturers are developing safety features that will protect all vehicle occupants, including backseat passengers. The following are examples of safety features that are being developed:
- Virtual crash tests: Although crash-test ratings are not available for backseat safety, researchers are in the process of developing improved safety systems for backseat passengers using computerized models of the human body. For example, researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia use these models to determine how well a booster seat protects a child, even if he or she is not seated correctly. Other researchers are conducting simulations of occupants who are above or below average height, as these occupants are not generally represented by crash-test dummies.
- Backseat airbags: Airbags can save lives and prevent serious injuries by preventing vehicle occupants from striking the dashboard and other hard surfaces in the event of an accident. Some luxury vehicles offer inflatable rear seat belts, which can reduce the force of the occupant’s chest. Other manufacturers equip vehicles with airbags that deploy from the back of the front seat, which will offer additional protection of the backseat passenger’s head, neck, and shoulders. Additional testing will determine whether the back airbags are compatible with child car seats.
- Personalized safety: According to a spokesperson for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, back seats may eventually be designed to automatically adjust to meet the needs of a wide range of occupants, including different sizes, ages, and shapes. For example, seat belt manufacturers are working on a technology in which the position of the shoulder belt adjusts to the passenger to ensure a secure fit.
What can I Do to Make My Back Seat as Safe as Possible?
Because it is often young children and babies in car seats who are sitting in the back seat, safety is a top priority. Even if the latest rear seat belt technology is not available in a motorist’s vehicle, he or she can take the following proactive steps to ensure that the back seat is as safe as possible:
- Store loose objects: It is common for drivers to leave water bottles, keys, their purse, and their cell phone either on the passenger seat, on the floor, or on the console between the front seats. However, if the vehicle comes to a sudden stop or is involved in a car accident going at a high speed, those unsecured objects can become dangerous if they hit the driver or any of the passengers. All loose items should be stored in the trunk, in the glove compartment, or in the pockets behind the seats. If the vehicle is an SUV, items can be stored in the cargo net. All trash should be disposed of as soon as possible.
- Choose the appropriate car seat. The process of choosing a car seat can be confusing and overwhelming. In addition to choosing the seat, parents must also find out when it is safe to move their child from a back-facing seat to a forward-facing seat. According to a study from the University of Michigan, close to 75 percent of parents put their children in forward-facing seats too soon. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children under the age of two ride in a back-facing car seat, unless the child has reached the height and weight limit found on the car seat label. Children should remain in a forward-facing car seat until they can no longer fit in the seat, and children should sit in a booster seat until they reach a height of four feet nine inches. A child’s pediatrician can recommend the safest car seat based on the child’s height, weight, and age.
- Pick the safest spot. Parents will need to choose the safest spot based on a number of factors. The middle seat is the safest in the event of a side impact car accident. However, the outer seats may be safer if the child is properly secured, if there are two car seats being used, or if the middle seat is not designed to hold a car seat.
- Replace car seats, if necessary. If a car seat has frayed straps, warped plastic, is defective in any way, or if the car seat has been recalled, it should be replaced immediately. Car seats can be expensive, but parents should avoid trying to save money by purchasing a used car seat because there is no way to know whether the car seat was used properly and well maintained. If there are parts missing or the car seat is damaged, or if it was in a car accident, the car seat should not be used, as it may be less effective at protecting the child from serious injuries if the car is involved in an accident.
- Avoid distracted driving: Although distracted driving is not directly related to backseat safety, it is one of the top causes of car accidents in the United States, so it is an important reminder for motorists who have passengers riding in the back seat.
Freehold Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Seek Compensation for Injured Backseat Passengers
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a car accident while riding in the back seat, you are urged to contact the Freehold car accident lawyers at Ellis Law at your earliest convenience. Our skilled legal team will conduct a thorough investigation into the details of the accident, including who was responsible for causing the accident. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online. With offices in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients from Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York City.