Kampala, Uganda | MOTORING GURU | It used to be that the backseat was considered safest in any car. Normally it was compared with the front – and the risk cards were stacked clear against the front.
Of course, even back then, it was not scientifically correct that the back window seat was safest. That prize belonged to the middle-middle seat.
But, ironically, that MM-seat was and possibly remains the most detested by both adults and children.
Part of the reason for this of course is the floor hump.
Then scientific research on the issue stepped in. It indicated that in crashes, the backseat was 60-90% safer than the front seat; which was expected. However, the research also showed something many did not expect; that the middle seat is 25% safer than the window seats in the back.
The middle seat is safest because it offers the most distance, also called the crump zone, from impact during a collision. So in case of an accident, the outer seat usually takes most of the impact while the middle seat remains relatively untouched.
When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) did studies on the safest place for a child seat, the middle seat turned out to be the safest for them.
Since then, it has been almost a motor vehicle industry recommendation that all children, meaning everyone below teenage, to ride in the back — ideally in the center. The safest way to do this is to ensure that the said middle car seat has full 3-point seat belt (rather than just a lap belt).
But all this convention wisdom has shifted slightly recently, partly because of the work that manufacturers have been putting in to ensure greater rider safety.
Safety accessories like air bags, better utilisation of “crumple zones”, and use of advanced seat belts have made the front seat quite safe. There are now front air bags, side air bags and knee air bags.
Over the same period, very little innovation has gone into making the rear seat safer. So guess what? The rear is no longer the safest place to be in a car in a crash, especially for an adult.
Whether one is injured, killed, or walks away unscathed in an accident depends on many variables including nature of the accident, speed of the vehicle, and type of vehicle involved.
But for children, the back remains the safest place to ride.
Today, however, adults aged 55 years and older, even those using seat belts, are more likely to die in a crash while seated in the back than in the front.
Researchers say adults in the back seat are more likely to sustain chest injuries, generally. Women in back are more likely to sustain head and neck injuries than those in front.
Part of the reason for this is that back-seat passengers tend not to buckle up as consistently as those in front.
In turn this may be because the belts on back seats are not as well designed as those in front. The back seat belts are less comfortable.
Seat belts are an important because, in case of a crash, they minimize the risk of someone being thrown out of the car.