Occupants in back seat are more likely to die in crashes, safety institute says


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Passengers who ride in the backseat could be at a greater risk of dying in a crash, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Institute says you are more likely to die in the back seat than in the front seat of many vehicles and so it’s asking automakers to make improvements to safety in the backseat.

If you’re sitting in the front seat of most any vehicle, you’ve got lots of things to protect you in a crash because automakers have put a lot of technology in this area to make you safe.

But, a person sitting in the back seat of the same car is more likely to suffer serious injuries or death in a crash that leaves the front seat passengers unscathed.

The IIHS studied 117 car crashes to come to its conclusion.

“The cases we specifically were looking at ones in which there is survivable space in which the passenger compartment does not collapse,” said IIHS President David Harkey.

The new study takes a closer look at the specific types of injuries belted back-seat passengers age 6 or older sustained in front crashes.

For the study, IIHS researchers used two national databases to find crashes in which rear-seat occupants were killed or seriously injured.

The most common type of injury, found in 22 of the injured occupants and 17 of the 37 fatalities with documented injuries, was to the chest.

Of the fatal cases, most were considered survivable, meaning there was sufficient space in the vehicle for the passenger after the crash.

This contrasts with a 2003 IIHS study of fatally injured children in child restraints.

In that study, the crashes in which child restraints were properly used were generally survivable.

Video of crash tests made by the institute show in a crash, there are no rear airbags to cushion occupants from colliding with the interior of the vehicle and the rear seat belts inflict chest injuries because they lack devices called force limiters.

“That allows the belt to loosen slightly so you prevent high force loads on the chest area,” said Harkey.

The Institute also says the other device needed on rear seat belts is something called a crash tensioner.

“It tightens the belt around the occupant forcing them back into the correct seating position,” explained Harkey.

With more and more people using ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, the Institute says there’s increasing risk to those riding in the backseat.

“We think it’s really important that we get these technologies into vehicles to protect the growing number of rear seat passengers,” said Harkey.

During an interview with Harkey, consumer investigator Steve Sbraccia asked how difficult would be for automakers to make back seats safer.

“The technologies we are talking about how are you exist for the front seat,” he said. “What we’re doing is to get them to add those technologies to the rear seat.”

To give automakers an incentive to do that the institute will incorporate back seat crash tests into its protocols starting with the 2022 model year.

IIHS is using the information from its study to develop a new front crash test that will evaluate occupant protection in the rear as well as the front.

Right now, some backseats do offer that kind of protection, but Harkey says it’s only on a few luxury models with the most expensive accessory or trim packages available.

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