For many years, the back seats of cars were the safest place for passengers to sit. However, a new study revealed that this may no longer be the case.
In recent years, manufacturers have implemented many improvements in the front of their vehicles. These improvements are intended to improve the safety of the front seat occupants. Unfortunately, manufacturers were so focused on improving the safety of the front seats that they incorporated few improvements to the back seats over the years.
Back seats as just as safe as they have always been. The safety of the back seats has just not kept up with the increasing safety in front seats.
How do safety features differ between front and back seats?
Some of the most significant safety improvements used in front seats involve seat belts and air bags. Seat belts used in the front of a vehicle will likely incorporate pre-tensioners and force limiters. Pre-tensioners automatically tighten when a crash begins, and force limiters allow the belt to stretch slightly to reduce the chest load in a crash.
Air bags that trigger within milliseconds of a crash also protect those riding in the front seats. Although some vehicles incorporate air bags in several locations, front-mounted airbags are the ones that can make a significant difference in a head-on collision.
Front-mounted airbags do not protect those seated in the rear. Also, the seat belts in the back of a car are unlikely to use the newest seat belt technology, like pre-tensioners or force-limiters. Lack of these three safety features can lead to the back-seat occupants receiving severe injuries in a collision.
Should children still sit in the back seat?
Despite the improved safety of front seats, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety still recommends that children sit in the back seat. Children should use a properly sized child safety seat until about age 12 and should sit in the back seat until at least that age. Appropriate car seats or booster seats can provide more protection for children than seat belts provide alone.
Seating children in the back seat can also protect them from the airbags used in the front seat. An inflating airbag can severely injure or kill a child because children are so much smaller and lighter than adults are. Airbags are especially risky for infants in rear-facing car seats because their heads are positioned close to the dashboard.
Although safety has improved for adults in the front of the car, some of the safety features that protect adults and older kids can be dangerous for young children. While the front seat may now be the safest place for adults to sit, it is generally still safest for children to sit in child safety seats the back.