The study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of frontal crashes in which rear seated occupants were killed in vehicles suggests that these passengers may still be at risk of fatalities even if they are wearing their seat belts. The study by the IIHS states that while front-seat occupants have benefitted greatly from advancements in seatbelts and airbags (restraint systems), however, occupants seated in the rear require more sophisticated restraints.
The IIHS has looked at 177 rear-seat injuries and fatalities in the study. The study revealed that passengers who failed to buckle up faired worst, however, many older adults and children over the age of nine suffered injuries when they were belted in. The most common type of injury, found in 22 of the injured occupants and 17 of the 37 fatalities with documented injuries, was to the chest. The new study also is taking into account the specific types of injuries that belted rea-occupants aged six and above sustained in frontal impacts. The IIHS is using the data to develop a new frontal crash test in order to properly evaluate rear passenger protection to bring the level of restraints similar to the kind available to front passengers. The Institute is currently conducting a series of research crash tests as part of this project.
Currently, in a crash, as soon as the collision begins, seat belts in the front seat tighten around the occupants, thanks to pre-tensioners. Additionally, it deploys the front airbags within a fraction of a second. Depending on the crash, the side airbags may also deploy. This allows the occupants to be kept safely away from any other hard parts of the car like the steering wheel, instrument cluster, the dashboard even if the force of the crash pushes that structure inward. However, the rear seat passengers do not have the benefit of a frontal airbag, and seatbelts in most vehicles lack pre-tensioners and force limiters. While the seat belts can limit rea- passengers to collide with parts of the vehicle interior, the study shows that the lack of force limiters can inflict chest injuries on impact.
The study claims that the fatalities that were evaluated could have been survivable with upgraded safety equipment and design. The IIHS suggests car makers investigate further into more sophisticated technologies for rear-seat occupants for seat belts and airbags mounted on the headliner or even an inflatable seat belt can help by spreading forces across the torso of the occupant.