The Death Seat: Is There A Seat To Avoid In A Car?

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By Marcus Fernandez

According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, forward collision warning and automatic braking systems developed by automotive engineers reduced rear-end collisions by 50%. As much as these and other crash-avoidance technologies contribute toward accident avoidance, car crashes and injuries to occupants of the vehicles continue to occur.

According to preliminary data released by the state, there were 383,599 crashes on Florida roadways in 2023. These crashes resulted in 3,228 deaths and 245,055 injuries. Locally, there were 27,094 crashes in Hillsborough County, causing 18,636 injuries and 222 fatalities.

The crash data may leave passengers wondering what seat position is safest in a car accident. What follows is an explanation of the factors affecting passenger safety to answer the question: Is there a “Death Seat” to avoid when riding in a car?

Does it matter where you sit in a car?

Early research into car crashes determined that the safest place for a passenger was the middle seat position in the rear. A study published in 2008 found that passengers in the middle seat had a 29% better chance of surviving a crash than front-seat passengers and a 25% better survival rate than people occupying other seats in the rear. 

Before fighting to claim the rear middle seat, you should be aware that a more recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reached a different conclusion when testing passenger crash protection in midsize SUVs. Of the 13 vehicles tested by the IIHS, four earned good ratings for protecting rear passengers, three earned marginal ratings, and the rest earned a poor rating.

The conclusions reached in the SUV study are consistent with another report from IIHS. This compares injuries and fatalities of rear-seat occupants with front-seat occupants of passenger vehicles. Several factors, including differences in types of seat belts, contributed to 117 passengers seated in rear seats suffering more severe injuries and deaths than other occupants.

Seat belts have changed over the years from a simple lap belt to keep a person from being ejected from a car in a crash to the lap-shoulder combination installed in cars now produced by manufacturers. The seat belts in the front and rear seats of the new car you drive off the dealer’s lot may look the same, but they are not. This may account for front-seat occupants having a greater level of safety in a crash than passengers seated in the rear. 

What makes front seat belts safer?

Cars have passive and active safety features. The purpose of active safety features is to assist drivers to avoid collisions. When a crash cannot be avoided, passive features protect occupants from death and serious injuries. 

Examples of active safety features found on passenger vehicles sold today include the following:

  • Traction control system
  • Anti-lock braking system
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Lane departure warning system
  • Blind spot detection
  • Driver monitoring and drowsiness detection
  • Automatic emergency braking system

Some manufacturers offer additional high-tech features. These include night vision systems that give drivers information about vehicles and objects beyond the range of the vehicle’s headlights.

Passive safety features designed to limit harm to car occupants in a crash include airbags, seat belts, and crumple zones. Crumple or crush zones are parts of a car designed to compress and absorb the impact of a collision. Steering wheel posts and the front and rear bumper areas of vehicles that collapse to absorb the impact of a crash are examples of crumple zones.

How do seat belts work to protect occupants of a vehicle in a crash?

Seat belts save lives by preventing occupants from being ejected or thrown about the passenger compartment in a crash. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 41% of drivers and passengers killed in motor vehicle accidents did not use a seat belt.

Cars manufacturers have come a long way from using front-seat lap straps that relied on users to fasten and tighten. The development of tensioners that automatically tighten seat belts when a crash occurs improved the ability of the restraint system to adjust to the forces exerted on vehicle occupants. 

Tensioners solved one of the issues with seat belts, but there remained the fact that the belts themselves could cause injuries. Injuries caused by the tightening of a lap or shoulder strap in a collision can cause chest and abdominal injuries. These can lead to the introduction of force limiters to allow a slight reduction of the pressure exerted in a crash to prevent belt injuries.

Where is the safest place to sit in a car?

Now that you know about seat belts and other passive safety features, the question remains: Where is the safest place to sit in case of an accident? It depends on whether the car you’re riding in has upgraded seat belt technology in the front and rear. 

Auto manufacturers upgraded seat belt systems for drivers and front-seat passengers. The upgrades have not made it into the rear seats in all vehicles. Many cars sold today do not have tensioners and force limiters protecting rear-seat occupants. 

A front seat may be the safest place to sit because of upgraded seat belts and airbags that deploy to protect occupants from side and frontal collisions. Rear seat passengers have side-collision airbags, but many vehicles do not have frontal-crash airbags to protect rear passengers. Choosing the front seat may be the safest place to ride in a car based on safety features. 

An unsecured seat belt cannot protect you. So, fasten your seat belt and keep it secured throughout the ride. Depending on a child’s age, Florida law has special rules for children riding in cars.

Children five years of age and younger must use a federally approved child restraint device. Children ages three or younger must be secured in a carrier or integrated car seat correctly attached to the vehicle. A child who is four or five years of age must use a carrier, child seat, or booster seat when riding in a car.

The Tampa Police Department has certified technicians available to help residents in need of assistance installing a child restraint device in a vehicle. The department also has limited child seats for residents meeting qualification guidelines.

Get help from Tampa car accident attorneys

If you suffer injuries in a car accident caused by another party, you may be entitled to recover compensation. Learn about your rights and how to enforce them by contacting KFB Law for a free consultation with an experienced Tampa personal injury lawyer.