Risk Of Dying May Be Higher In Back Seat During Head-On Collisions

The car that allegedly plowed through a crowd of protestors marching through a downtown shopping district is seen after the vehicle was stopped by police several blocks away August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

While it may seem counterintuitive, new research indicates that the risk of death is greater for passengers riding in the back seats of cars in head-on collisions.

A study published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on Thursday reported that passengers in back seats lacked sufficient protection from head-on crashes.

The study examined 117 frontal collisions in which passengers seated in the rear seats suffered serious injury or death. Results showed that most of the fatalities were considered survivable. In addition, many of the back-seat occupants sustained greater injuries than the passengers in the front seats, which suggests that restraints in the rear of the vehicles simply did not perform as well as the ones in the front.

Moreover, information gathered from medical and police records suggested that the rear-seat injuries were mainly due to “excessive forces” from the shoulder belt, meaning the belt was responsible for at least part of the injury.

Many of the fatal head injuries were not survivable, the report said. In some of the nonfatal head injuries, passengers hit their heads on the interior of the vehicle, suggesting some sort of head protection would have prevented damage.

The report said that while car manufacturers made significant improvements in the front-seat protection, they have not done the same for the rear seats compartments of vehicles.

“It’s not that the rear seat has become less safe, it’s that the front seat has become more safe over time,” IIHS President David Harkey told USA Today.

Since head and chest injuries are both serious issues, the report stated that measures taken must reduce force on the chest without causing the passenger’s head to move too far forward. Too much force pushing the head forward could result in the head coming into contact with other parts of the vehicle, which would cause additional injury.

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The organization did not offer any particular solution for the troublesome issue, but did say something like an air bag in the back seat could be an option.

The agency was hopeful that their findings would prompt automakers to figure out a way to correct the problem on their own.

“We’re confident that vehicle manufacturers can find a way to solve this puzzle in the back seat just as they were able to do in the front,” Harkey said.

Founded in 1959, the IIHS is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the number of deaths, injuries, and property damage resulting from motor vehicle crashes.