While passenger car safety has come a long way in the past few years, safety measures are not always evenly divided among all of a car’s occupants. A recent study found that as newer models may increase driver safety, the back seat has been left behind when it comes to crash protection.
The study was jointly conducted by The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and used crash data from 2007 through 2012. Although all of the cars included in the study were made in 2000 or later, there were some worrying safety concerns for back seat passengers, including:
- Older adults. Adults over age 55 who were sitting in the backseat had the highest risk of serious or fatal injury of any other occupant—even when wearing a seat belt. In addition, older adults were more at risk of fatalities, chest injuries, and head and neck injuries in the back seat vs. the front.
- Unequal improvement. Research shows that back seat safety has stayed fairly level as improvements have been made in the front. Risk of death for back seat passengers was significantly higher than the risk for drivers in the newest car models, largely because of new innovations making the front seats—and only the front seats—safer.
- Seatbelt use. While most parents worry about children in the rear seat, adults were more likely to suffer fatal crash injuries, largely due to lack of seat belt use. About 70 percent of adults aged 20-54 buckled up in serious crashes, while 99 percent of infants and 96 percent of children under eight were properly restrained.
Can Front-Seat Solutions Help Back Seat Passengers?
Unfortunately, it may be easier to devise safety solutions in the front seat than in the rear. The study’s authors commented that it is difficult to design back seat safety solutions that will provide the same protection for children and adults. Seat belts must be designed to hold occupants of various shapes and sizes, but they also cannot interfere with mandatory child restraints. Until more front seat innovations (such as side airbags and knee airbags) make it to the back, rear occupants remain completely reliant on driver actions for their safety.
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