Putting the Rear Seat First

April 29, 2013

Child and traffic safety advocates know that the safest place for children under age 13 in motor vehicles is the back seat. However, with 952 children age 15 and younger dying in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 and injury risk for children and adolescents increasing with age, we must ask ourselves: How can we make the rear seat safer for children?

Today, the CIRP@CHOP research team released a CPS Issue Report: Optimizing the Rear Seat for Children. It provides the latest evidence and our recommendations for improving the safety of the rear seat of passenger vehicles for children who have outgrown add-on restraints. A proposed place to start is with technologies that are already successfully protecting front seat passengers. Seat belt features such as load limiters and pretensioners may reduce the risk of serious head and chest injury among rear seated occupants. In order for older children to make the most of seat belt technologies, we should consider adapting successful booster seat design and adjusting the geometry of the rear seat, to help keep children properly positioned in seat belts and to reduce lateral movement in side impact crashes.

Improving the safety of the rear seat is also on the radar of the federal government. Earlier this month, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a Request for Comments to help identify areas of improvement to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), which rates motor vehicles to determine crash worthiness and rollover safety. Currently, NCAP does not evaluate the safety of rear seat occupants in frontal crashes. Thus, I am happy to see that the current Request for Comments specifically seeks perspective on the safety of rear seat occupants.

Seventy percent of rear seat occupants are children and adolescents, so it’s important to consider their unique safety needs as part of any improvements to NCAP. In this CPS Issue Report, we provide recommendations for research, policy, and industry to help guide fellow traffic safety colleagues in their consideration of priorities for safety in the rear seat.

In addition to the report, we have created a one-page summary and an infographic to help you share this important information with key decision makers.