Rear-passengers face greater injury risk

Drivers and other front-seat vehicle passengers have received the benefit of airbags and seatbelts, which together operate to keep a person in the proper position in a car crash. However, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, rear passengers have not received these protections in car accidents.

Embedded devices known as crash tensioners allow seat belts to tighten around front seat occupants when a frontal collision occurs. Frontal and, if needed, side airbags then deploy within a fraction of a second. These airbags keep front occupants away from the steering wheel, instrument panel and other parts of the vehicle when it stops suddenly, and the force of the collision pushes the vehicle forward. Seat belts are also equipped with force limiters to reduce the risk of chest injuries. These prevent the belt from getting too high by allow some webbing to spool out.

In the rear, side airbags deploy to protect passengers. However, front airbags are not installed in rear seats. Seat belts in the rear usually have no crash tensioners and force limiters. Without these devices, rear passengers can hit the vehicle interior in an accident. Seat belts may also cause chest injuries when they are not equipped with force limiters.

In the study, 117 serious accidents were examined, and chest injuries were the most common injury and accounted for 17 of the 37 fatalities. The IIHS also determined that rear passengers suffered more severe injuries than front-seat passengers. This indicates that rear restraints were less effective than the ones installed in the front. Researchers found that excessive forces from the shoulder belt were responsible for rear-seat chest injuries.

Head injuries were the second most prevalent injury. These accounted for 18 fatalities. These fatal head injuries were not considered survivable. In some of the nonfatal accidents, the passengers' heads hit the vehicle's interior. Researchers, however, could not determine whether this occurred in the fatal accidents.

Victims of these crashes may be entitled to compensation if the accident was caused by a negligent or reckless driver. An attorney can help pursue this right in a lawsuit.

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