Back seat drivers right to feel uneasy

A new study has found that adults travelling in the back seat of newer cars are less safe than their fellow front seat passengers.

The study, by Neuroscience Research Australia, found that front seats have far outstripped back seats in terms of developing safety features over the last few decades.

“We could save more lives and prevent more injuries if we paid the same attention to the rear seat of cars as we have to the front seat,” says Assoc Prof Lynne Bilston, of Neuroscience Research Australia.

“We are calling for immediate improvements in car rear seat safety.”

Previous studies in older cars have shown that occupants sitting in the back seat were at lower risk of serious injury and death in crashes, says Assoc Prof Bilston.

“However, since the mid 1990s, front seats have improved enormously with airbags and better seatbelt designs in the front driver and passenger positions,” she says.

These safety features are often not included in the rear seat, even in newer cars, meaning the front seat is now relatively safer than the rear seat for adult passengers.

Assoc Prof Bilston and colleagues compared the risk of injury to front and rear seat occupants in cars made between 1990-1996 to that in newer cars.

They found that while newer cars are safer than older cars, significant reductions in head, thoracic and abdominal injuries were only seen in front seat occupants, not rear seat occupants.

While all adults in newer cars are relatively safer in the front seat, the effect is greater for older adults. Children are still safer sitting in the rear seat.

Assoc Prof Bilston says that there are currently no regulations on how cars should be designed to protect rear seat occupants.

“We are calling on the Government and crash test programs, such as the Australian New Car Assessment Program, to shift some of their focus to the rear seat,” she says.

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