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Car Passengers in Danger: Where Is the Safest Place in a Car?

For decades, there has been a perception that the back seat behind the driver is the safest place in a car, but is that true?

An analysis of the consequences of frontal collisions by the Institute for Highway Traffic Safety (IIHS) has shown that passengers sitting in the rear seats of a car suffer more injuries than those in front. 

From the technological point of view

The opinion that the place behind the driver’s seat is the safest in a frontal collision is mainly due to technological reasons. The front crumple zone absorbs the first impact, so the forces acting on the rear of the cabin are damped, reducing the risk of serious injury. However, a study of frontal collisions by the Institute for Highway Traffic Safety found that more than half of second-row passengers suffered graver injuries than front-seat passengers. This is due to the passive safety systems development for front seat passengers being faster, even in the safest sport utility vehicles, including optimized crumple zones, airbags, and improved belt tensioners.

How seat belts increase safety

The researchers analyzed traffic accidents that killed or injured more than 117 people of different ages. All of them were in the back seat during the head-on collision. Medical records confirmed that many injuries were caused by the exaggerated pressure of seat belts on the chest. The Indy Auto Man used car experts explain this by the obsolete design—in many SUV and car models, seat belts in the rear seats do not have the so-called tension limiters, a standard for the front seats. Nevertheless, fastening is mandatory and the only reasonable solution, regardless of the belt type. They prevent potentially fatal injuries, such as a strong blow to the back of the front seat or flying through the windshield.

Protection for children

Properly designed rear seats should provide comfort during the trip and maximum safety, especially in the best family cars. This is extremely important because they are often used by older children who, due to their height, no longer fit in child car seats. In addition to seat belts, and head restraints, a proper seat shape is responsible for protecting passengers in this area. It must be firmly reinforced, have a longitudinal recess on the edge, and sufficient depth to prevent the passenger from sliding forward in case of a collision.

The safest place for elderly people

Older adults are the most vulnerable to seat belt pressure-related injuries. Their bones are more fragile and brittle. The IIHS recommends that older passengers sit in the front, especially if the rear seat belts do not have a tension limiter.

The bases of the rear seats today are made from foamed polymers with high mechanical strength, combined with soft fillers that provide high comfort. EPP foam molding technology allows the production of seat elements with metal reinforcement and inserts for easy installation. Specially designed molds help achieve the desired parameters of all parts. Due to its cushioning properties and ability to return to its previous shape, EPP is also used in armrests, headrests, and door panels, providing passive protection for passengers.

Design and development of technology

Seat belts were first used in Volvo cars in the late 1970s and have since become widely used in all modern vehicles.

The safety mechanism, consisting of an elastic band attached to a spring reel, allows the belt to unwind and retract as the passenger moves. However, in an accident, the locking mechanism will balance the inertial force and prevent the body from jerking forward.

Over time, the manufacturers began to use three-point belts to protect the hips, chest, and abdomen and added pretensioners to more reliably tighten the belt and press the body to the chair. They are connected to the same sensors as airbags. Manufacturers also use tension limiters that weaken the belt pressure a moment after the airbags are deployed to provide even greater safety. This allows the body to fall freely on the pillow. In addition, the force with which the fastened belt acts on a person was selected according to the body strength to prevent injury. 

Airbags do not protect rear seat passengers, so in many cases, the seat belts in this part of the cabin have not evolved as much as the front ones. However, more car manufacturers install pretensioners and belt tension limiters in the rear seat today(and even mechanisms that prevent slipping). So those who want to buy the safest vehicle for a family should dig deeper into its characteristics or consult the specialists.

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