Most people believe that passengers in the back seat of a car are generally safer than front seat passengers during a crash. In fact, the top reason adults give for not buckling up in the back seat is their belief that rear seats are safer than front seats, a 2016 national survey found. But thanks to the neglect of rear seat restraint systems even as front seat airbags and seat belts have become ever-more sophisticated and effective, front seat passengers now survive more accidents in which rear seat passengers are killed or seriously injured.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident * or have lost a loved one in a car crash, it is crucial that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney. A good accident attorney begins dealing directly with the insurance companies so you can focus on recovering and rebuilding your life.
A 2015 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of fatalities involving car occupants who were wearing seat belts found that rear seat passengers were 46% more likely to die than those riding up front. This study was a follow-up prompted by earlier findings that children age 9 or older, as well as older adults, were suffering serious injuries in car crashes even when belted in the back seat.
Drivers and front seat passengers have benefitted from front- and side airbags and advances in seat belt technology, including pretensioners and load limiters. Pretensioners help hold an occupant in place upon impact, while load limiters allow slight loosening of the belt before forces become great enough to cause serious chest injury. The airbags and seat belts work together as a restraint system.
While rear-occupant areas may be equipped with side airbags that can protect people in a side impact crash, they usually don’t have airbag systems that help during frontal crashes. Nor are pretensioners or load limiters likely to be found on rear seat belts. In a head-on collision, crash forces can cause a back-seat passenger to collide with the vehicle interior. While seat belts can prevent that, the IIHS study, which focused on rear-seat passengers age 6 and up, shows that the lack of force limiters can cause serious or deadly chest and neck injuries.
Tragically, most of the deaths in the crashes studied by IIHS in 2015 were likely preventable. The Institute says that the crash impacts left sufficient space in the vehicles for the rear passengers to live in most cases, but people still died – most often of chest injuries due to excessive forces from shoulder belts. This contrasted with an earlier study, which found that child safety seats are so effective at protecting infants and young children that when a child in a safety seat died in an accident, the crash was almost always so severe that it would not have been survivable.
Head injuries are another danger to those seated in the rear passenger area of a car, causing both injury and death. In the fatal crashes where there were head injuries, the IIHS found the majority of accidents were not survivable. The Institute exhorts restraint system designers to make reduction of head injuries a priority, along with avoidance of damaging forces to the chest.
The addition of force limiters and pretensioners to rear seat belts would be one way to reduce chest injuries while helping avoid head injuries. There are other measures being investigated by manufacturers to better protect rear-seat passengers, including seat belt airbags that inflate in a crash to protect the chest. Other options include a frontal airbag that expands from the ceiling.
It remains a crucial safety practice to always buckle up, regardless of where you sit in a vehicle. While rear restraints need to be improved, using what you currently have in your car is still better than nothing, even if you drive an older car and the rear seats come equipped with only a lap belt. When it comes to babies and young children, it is vital to place them in a properly installed car seat. An unrestrained rear-seat passenger is in much greater danger of injury or death in a crash because they can be thrown by crash forces into the vehicle’s interior and can also impact with other passengers or the driver. Unbelted passengers and motorists are much more likely to be ejected from the car, which usually leads to far worse injuries and a measurably greater chance of death.
If you have been injured in a car accident, contact us today. Suk Law Firm has focused exclusively on personal injury and wrongful death cases since 1988 and has recovered more than $125 million on behalf of our clients. We are ready to assist you.
Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.
*A note about language:
Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”