This Is The Next Big Safety Hurdle For Automakers: The Back Seat

Technology from the front seat may help tackle the issue

This Is The Next Big Safety Hurdle For Automakers: The Back Seat

The IIHS says rear seats need a safety overhaul.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a new study of frontal crashes that paint rear-seat passenger as the next place automakers should focus their attention. According to their release, “Front-seat occupants have benefited greatly from advancements in restraints (airbags, seat belts technologies, etc.) — back-seat occupants haven’t benefited from this technology to the same extent.”

This IIHS study looks at rear-seat passengers aged 6 or older in frontal crashes. They’re using the information from these crash tests to work out a new way to test protection for those in the back seats. It isn’t the first time the IIHS has looked at the issue, as they published another study back in December 2014. Now though, a new frontal crash test may be developed from the research.

IIHS researchers looked at 117 crashes in which occupants in the back seat were seriously injured or killed. The most common type of injury in this crashes was to the chest. 22 of the injured occupants and 17 of the 37 fatalities suffered chest trauma after a crash. However, they also concluded most of the fatal cases were survivable. In other words, there was enough space in the vehicle for the passenger after the crash. Unlike the front, where you can be pinned against the dashboard fascia, the back seat usually has more room for passengers.

Force limiters help reduce the risk of chest injuries from the seat belt in an accident.

Force limiters may be one solution

Of course, seat belts have helped immensely to reduce the serious injuries and fatalities stemming from accidents. However, the belts have to hold back seat occupants down tightly in a crash. By doing that, the IIHS study found they can actually cause chest injuries, as noted in most of the 117 cases IIHS researchers studied.

One solution to improve back seat safety would be a force limiter. Front seat occupants have the technology built into their seats, and it allows the seat belt to unspool slightly before the forces from the belts get too high. Rear seats typically lack that feature, according to the IIHS. The reason for that is likely down to the fact that the IIHS does not currently have a strict test for rear-seat protection in frontal crash tests to the same extent as it does for those in the front.

Crash tensioners are another option to use with force limiters. These activate in the front seats as a crash starts. It pulls the driver and front passenger back into the seat to prevent them hitting the dash or windshield, before the force limiter allows them to slowly move forward into the airbags.

The IIHS study mentioned rear seat airbags as another solution.

Mercedes-Benz and Ford have also been working on an inflatable seat belt as a possible solution. They would expand in the event of a crash to better distribute the forces across the chest area. One other possibility the IIHS mentioned was using frontal airbags in the rear seats, but no automaker has done that yet.

IIHS President David Harkey said of the challenge, “We’re confident that vehicle manufacturers can find a way to solve this puzzle in the back seat just as they were able to do in the front.”