Seat belts save lives in auto accidents, there is no denying that.
What can be argued now is whether sitting properly seat-belted in the rear seat of a car is still the safest place to be.
According to many auto accident attorneys, front seat belt technology has advanced and rear seat belt technology has not advanced at the same pace.
For many, the rear seat in numerous vehicles is now the most dangerous place to be sitting when an accident occurs and here is some important information regarding this statement.
Seat Belts and Saving Lives
A recent report issued by the NHTSA states that in 2017, there were 37,133 people fatally injured in vehicle accidents in America and among them, 47% were not wearing seat belts.1
The report goes on to say that both front and rear seat belts saved 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 lives if that 47% were wearing them.1
Since then, another report by the IIHS was released that points to a conclusion that what we have come to accept about rear seat safety is no longer valid, ironically because of the seat belts.2
The report compiled research data from multiple crash studies and uncovered a startling truth: that of the fatalities among counted rear seat passengers, over half were more severely injured than front seat passengers from chest, back, and head injuries.2
Rear Seat Used To Be the Safest Place to Sit
As automobiles have improved over the years, safety organizations, auto accident lawyers, and many other groups have seen the gradual progression to safer cars, in part due to the adoption of seat belt use and the continued improvement of this technology.
Previous reporting up to very recent times had shown that sitting in the rear seat was much safer than sitting in the front; however, that was before seat belts became the advanced models of today.
Front Seat Belt Technology Outpacing Rear Seat Belt Technology
Most new cars now are equipped with more advanced load limiter seat belts, which have greatly improved front seat safety.
Load limiter seat belts with pretensioners adjust freely to a person’s size and weight while seated in the vehicle, reducing the load impact when the belt locks during an auto accident.
Unfortunately, that improved seat belt technology has not made it to the rear seats and most cars still have rear seat belts without pretensioners.
The belts tighten only upon impact, causing the passenger’s weight to suddenly come in full contact with the belt, many times resulting in injury.
This minor change in seat belt technology has resulted in the front passenger seat becoming the safest place to be and the back seats more dangerous.
Rear Seat Belts and Fatal Injuries
According to research compiled by IIHS, auto accident attorneys familiar with this research point out that the rear seat in most cars no longer qualifies as the safest seat due to the way the seat belts work.
Most vehicles still include standard mechanisms without load-limiting pretensioners in the back seat which has contributed to serious injury.
Because the belt can’t loosen until the load is completely removed, they are a significant contributing factor in serious and fatal chest, spine, and head injuries to rear seat passengers especially for passengers over the age of 55 or children between 6 and 12 years.
Changes In Seat Belt Technology Requires Attention
Auto accident lawyers see many cases now where rear seat passengers are seriously injured by seat belts that do not include safety features like load limiting pretensioners.
Seat belt loading or locking during an accident is the cause of many serious or fatal chest, spine, and head injuries to rear seat passengers and a serious safety concern that requires more attention so that changes can be made to automaker safety standards.
Until then, it is recommended that people looking for a new car do some research before making a purchase and seek out brands that already include these safer rear seat belts in their vehicle designs!
Hildebrand & Wilson, Attorneys at Law
7930 Broadway, Suite 122
Pearland TX 77581
1U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Risky Driving - Seat Belts, 2018
2Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Seat Belts, Seat Belt Technology: Factors Contributing to Serious and Fatal Injuries in Belted Rear-Seat Occupants in Frontal Crashes, 2019