Cars are one of the riskiest ways to travel; although nowhere near as deadly as the motorbike, the trusty old automobile is notably more dangerous than ferries, trains, buses, and flying. However, while much of the attention in terms of car safety has been put on the driver, it looks like other passengers could be more at risk.
New research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has looked into the safety of backseat passengers in car crashes. Their findings showed that passengers in the back seats might actually be more at risk of injury or death than those riding up front in certain scenarios. This might sound surprising, but there’s an interesting explanation for it.
The IIHC argues that car manufacturers have gone to huge lengths to improve the safety of front-seat passengers and drivers, most notably by the introduction of new airbag technology. Meanwhile, the safety of backseat passengers has not enjoyed the same level of attention. The report found that rear seatbelts are considerably less efficient and less likely to come with “force limiters”, which help to reduce injuries from seatbelts.
"Manufacturers have put a lot of work into improving protection for drivers and front-seat passengers. Our moderate overlap front crash test and, more recently, our driver-side and passenger-side small overlap front tests are a big reason why," David Harkey, president of the IIHS, said in a statement.
"We hope a new evaluation will spur similar progress in the back seat," he added.
The study investigated 117 car crashes in which rear-seat occupants were killed or seriously injured using photographs, police and medical records, and crash investigation and autopsy reports. In many instances, the backseat passengers were injured more severely than the front-seat occupants, suggesting a discrepancy in safety between the front and rear rows. They also found the most common type of injury sustained in these cases were chest injuries, closely followed by head injuries.
They conclude by urging car manufacturers to focus more on the safety of backseat passengers. For example, force limiters could be fairly easily installed. Equally, some Ford and Mercedes-Benz cars have seatbelts that are armed with an inflatable airbag designed to distribute force across the torso and chest. However, implementing a lot of this technology wouldn’t be as easy as it sounds.
"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.