With an increasing number of people relying on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced plans to update its use of crash test dummies in frontal crash tests for its 5-Star Safety Rating. These updates will include a provision to start testing the effects of crashes on back seat passengers.
The safety of rear passengers has not been so rigorously regarded – or researched – as that of front seat passengers. There has been much good that has come out of the focus on overall passenger safety, including improved airbags, seat belt alert systems and more effective restraints. However, those in the back – in many cases, children – have been largely ignored. This is despite serious concerns about their safety in collisions.
As some safety advocates have noted many people erroneously believe that 5-Star safety rating extends to all locations in the vehicle. But the reality is the program, founded in 1978, is only designed to indicate how safe the driver and front seat passenger are. Officials at the agency now say it’s time to change that.
One of the areas in which this could result in huge gains are in the tendency of front seats to collapse into the back seat – even in low-speed crashes. In some cases, this results in serious injury to the driver or front seat passenger, but more often than not, it’s the person in the back who suffers the worst.
Take for example the 2010 auto accident that killed a 1-year-old girl in Houston, TX. Her family vehicle was rear-ended by another minivan traveling 55 mph. Although everyone initially seemed to be Ok, the family soon realized there was “something wrong” with the little girl. Although she was still breathing, blood was coming out of her mouth. She lost consciousness. She died soon thereafter. It was revealed the driver’s seat where her father was sitting fell back with such force that it caused fatal injuries when it struck her head. That same issue has caused serious leg-related injuries in older children seated in the back seat.
Another issue for back seat passengers is a condition known as “partition face.” This is when someone seated in the back of a taxi cab equipped with a partition does not wear a seat belt and is subsequently involved in a rear-end collision. The person is then thrown straight into the partition, causing serious head injuries, eye injuries and facial fractures. A significant number of those in taxis wrongly believe they are somehow safer in a cab because it’s a commercial vehicle, which is why many forego the seat belt.
But if vehicles were better designed with passenger safety in mind, some of these more serious car accident injuries could be avoided.
Although some vehicle manufacturers have taken steps to improve backseat safety on their own, these measures aren’t consistent nor are they widespread.
The NHTSA has said it plans to pass the rule by the end of the year, which means the soonest the rear seat safety dummy tests will begin will be for 2019 model year vehicles.
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Crash Test Dummies Get in Back Seat to Make Uber Riders Safety, May 25, 2016, By Jeff Plungis, Bloomberg.com
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