Which Seat is Safest in the Event of a Car Accident?

Despite car safety features like airbags and seat belts, Utah auto accidents frequently result in injuries.  For example, in 2014, the Utah Department of Public Safety reported that 30% of crashes caused injuries.  The likelihood of injury is influenced by many factors, including where you are seated in the vehicle when an accident occurs.  The question is, which seat in your car is safest?  Salt Lake City car accident lawyer Darwin Overson answers that question by looking at statistics and studies on the risk of injury associated with different seating positions, while also covering some basic points about Utah’s car seat laws for child and infant passengers.

Which Seating Position is Safest for Passengers When a Car Accident Happens?

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Several studies have analyzed the risk of injury associated with different car seat positions – and their findings may surprise you.

For instance, one study published last year in Accident Analysis & Prevention examined 5,419 front seat passenger injuries and 4,588 rear seat passenger injuries from Australian car crashes involving a total of 3,681 vehicles.

Many people assume the rear seat is safer, but in fact, according to the study, “There was a higher odds of sustaining a higher injury severity as a rear [seat car passenger] compared to a front seat car passenger, with a higher odds of rear seat passengers sustaining serious injuries compared to minimal injuries.”

Other automotive safety experts have confirmed these findings.  In February 2015, about half a year before the Prevention study was published, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety senior research scientist Jessica Jermakian told CBS News, “We don’t have crash dummies in the rear.  So things are improving in the front, but the backseat hasn’t kept up.  For adult occupants, we wouldn’t necessarily say it’s safer [in the rear seat] anymore.”

Utah Seatbelt and Car Seat Requirements for Children, Toddlers, and Infants

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While front seats may be safer than rear seats, it is critically important to distinguish rear seats from rear-facing seats, which are absolutely vital to child and infant safety.  In fact, the Utah Department of Health explicitly recommends rear-facing seats as a means of injury prevention. Its website urges parents to take the following steps to reduce the risk of harm in the event of a crash or collision:

“Place children in the back seat in a properly installed child safety seat or booster seat.  Infants should be restrained in rear-facing child safety seats for as long as possible.  Children should remain rear facing until age two.”

The rationale behind rear-facing seating for young children has to do with the weight of their heads in relation to the strength of their necks.  Proportional to the rest of the body, an infant or toddler’s head is much heavier than that of an older child, like a 12-year-old.

At the same time, toddlers and infants do not yet possess fully formed tendons or muscles, which means their necks are weaker and thus more prone to flopping motions in the event of a crash.  If a toddler or infant is seated in a forward-facing position, a head-on collision exerts tremendous force on the delicate neck, increasing the likelihood of a neck injury or spinal cord injury.  Facing backward helps to absorb some of this force, making a serious injury less likely.  That being said, even adults are vulnerable to serious neck injuries – a fact made clear by the prevalence of crash-related whiplash injuries.

In addition to recommending rear-facing seats for infants and toddlers up to the age of two, Utah also has a booster seat law which requires – not recommends – all children under age eight to be restrained in a booster seat or a child restraint, unless the child is at least 57 inches tall (4’9”), in which case the law does not apply.

Once a child reaches that height, he or she should switch to using the seatbelt without a booster seat.  Parents should check to make sure that the belt is securely buckled and properly positioned, especially when the child is first getting the hang of using it, because an improperly positioned belt can cause “seatbelt syndrome,” a term which describes a certain pattern of abdominal injuries and organ damage.  Improperly fitted seatbelts can also cause spinal fractures, which have the potential to cause permanent paralysis.

Additionally, Utah Code § 41-6a-1803 creates the following requirements:

  • Drivers must wear seatbelts.
  • Passengers age 16 or older must wear seatbelts.
  • Children under eight must be restrained.
  • Parents (or others) must make sure that children aged eight to 16 are wearing a seatbelt.

If you fail to comply with these laws, you can receive a citation.

Injured in a Utah Car Crash? Contact a Salt Lake City Auto Accident Lawyer for Help

As studies have shown, a passenger’s seating position can reduce the risk of injury should a crash or collision occur.  However, no matter where an adult, child, or infant is seated in the vehicle, it is unfortunately impossible to completely eliminate the risk of serious injury.

If you or your son or daughter suffered a whiplash injury, spinal cord injury, or other type of injury as a result of a car crash in Utah, compensation may be available for your lost income, your hospital bills, and other losses and expenses.  To discuss whether you might have a personal injury claim in a free legal consultation, call Salt Lake whiplash injury lawyer Darwin Overson at (801) 895-3143 as soon as possible.


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