Most people assume that the back seat is a safer place to be than the front. We put our kids back there for a reason. But over the course of the past few decades, front seat safety has been improved significantly. Unfortunately, similar changes haven’t been made to the rear passenger area.

Today, most front seat compartments have:

  • Front air bags
  • Side air bags
  • Seatbelt crash tensioners (which tighten seatbelts in crashes)
  • Seatbelt force limiters (which keep seatbelts from getting too tight in a crash)

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that the back seat isn’t as safe compared to the front seat as it once was. Unfortunately, that’s leaving back seat passengers getting hurt in survivable accidents.

For the study, the IIHS examined 117 front crashes where a back-seat passenger was injured or killed despite wearing a seatbelt. Many of those injuries and deaths could have been prevented with relatively simple changes.

For example, many people in the accidents studied had chest injuries from their seatbelts. This was caused by the belts tightening too much across the chest during the crash. A simple force limiter on the rear seatbelt could likely have prevented those injuries. Yet back-seat seatbelts rarely have force limiters.

The IIHS, which was founded by the insurance industry in order to research driving safety, also recommends that auto makers consider new, more sophisticated options for protecting the back seat. One example might be installing rear-seat air bags in the ceiling.

According to the Associated Press, the IIHS notes that studies like this one have sometimes resulted in safety upgrades in vehicles. It hopes this study will have the same effect for rear-seat safety.

“We’re confident that vehicle manufacturers can find a way to solve this puzzle in the back seat just as they were able to do in the front,” said the group’s president.

We hope they’re right. When people are in traffic accidents, they need all the protection auto makers can devise. To keep yourself and your family safe, get the safest car you can afford, always wear your seatbelts, and drive carefully. If you end up being in a serious car accident, be sure to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney.