For years, people were told that the safest place to sit in the event of a car accident was the back seat. However, advances in seatbelt technology might mean sitting in the front seat is safer than sitting in the rear seat. The difference depends on whether the vehicle sports front seatbelt sensors, which are seldom found in back seat seatbelts. It is not so much a question of the back seat becoming more dangerous territory, but that of technology making the front seat safer.
The new technology involved in the design of front seatbelts in late model cars include sensors that automatically tighten the seatbelt when an imminent crash is detected. On the other hand, if a passenger presses so tightly against the seatbelt that they are in danger of harming themselves, the sensors loosen the seatbelt. Known as load limiters, the ability to loosen when necessary may prove life-saving.
While seatbelts are supposed to save lives in event of a wreck, and undoubtedly do, in some instances the standard rear seatbelt might cause serious, even fatal, injuries to the chest, spine or abdomen.
Back Seat Passengers
While back seat occupants obviously vary by vehicle, most often those sitting in the rear seats are children. Adults who no longer drive themselves are also frequent back seat passengers.
Also vulnerable are the millions of those using ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber, since passengers are usually inclined to sit in the back and not share the front seat with the driver.
Those aged 55 and older should sit in the front passenger seats if the vehicle is equipped with these more sophisticated seatbelt designs, according to the recommendations by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA). However, if the vehicle is equipped with such seatbelt designs in the rear, then the back seat remains the safest place to sit.
The new recommendations do not change for children, with the NHSTA standing by its long-held rules that those under 13 should sit in the back. Part of the reason the recommendations did not change for younger people, even though seatbelt technology has changed, is that their injury patterns differ significantly than adults hurt in similar crashes.
Available Models for Back Seat Safety
Currently, many vehicles offer the new seatbelt technology for their front-seat passengers, with relatively few installing the technology for the back seats. Among those offering the new load limiting tech for the back seat are certain models of vehicles manufactured by Audi, BMW, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo, along with the Volkswagen Passat.
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