Which Is Safer – Riding Shotgun or in the Back Seat?

Photo (cc) by Dave Benson

If you’re like many Americans, you probably think you’re safer riding in the back seat during a car crash. After all, safety experts recommend that all children under age 13 sit in the back seat, so it must offer the most protection, right?

Not always, according to Consumer Reports.

Auto safety has primarily focused on the front seat for the past few decades. That’s understandable when you consider that there’s always a driver, and oftentimes a front-seat passenger.

CR said a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reveals that rear-seat safety has lagged behind safety advances in the front seat.

In vehicles made after 2006, people sitting in the rear seat have a 46 percent greater chance of dying in a car crash than someone riding shotgun, even when they wear a seatbelt.

“It’s not because the rear seat has gotten less safe, but rather the front seat has gotten safer,” said Jessica Jermakian, IIHS senior research scientist and co-author of a recent study on rear-seat safety.

Despite that alarming statistic, safety experts said the rear seat is still the safest seat for children under 9 years old. As for older children, CR said:

… although results for 9- to 12-year-olds showed a higher relative risk in the rear seat, it was attributed to “an unusually small fatality risk in the front,” and not to a higher risk in the rear. Consumer Reports still recommends that all children under the age of 13 ride in the back.

The results of the study conflict with what many people — including the automotive safety community — have preached for years, according to Dennis Durbin, M.D., the study’s lead author.

“I always used to say that, if I could figure out a way to drive from the back seat I would,” Durbin said.

But before you swear off riding in the back seat for good, there are ways to make the rear seat safer. Jermakian said adding seat-belt pretensioners and load limiters, similar to what’s already found in the front seat, could help reduce chest injuries. Adding a seatbelt reminder chime for the rear seat is another idea.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also looking into a rear-seat restraint systems, like rear airbags that would deploy from the roof or the back of the front seat, CR said.

The difficult in implementing safer rear-seat features is finding a solution that works for a wide range of back seat passengers, from infants to elderly travelers.

“It will be important that engineering solutions not help one group at the expense of the other,” CR said.

If you’re not driving, where do you ride in the car? Did you think the front or back seat was safer? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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