NHTSA Talks Testing of Backseat Crash Test Dummies


Strides in safety improvements for front seat passengers of motor vehicles in recent years has now shed light on an area that’s been neglected: The back seat. 

Fewer research and regulation has focused on protecting back seat passengers, in many cases children and increasingly, passengers using ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber.

Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) has announced it is planning a series of changes to its crash-test program, which determines the 5-star Safety Ratings. These ratings are hugely valuable to vehicle manufacturers, dealerships and customers. For the very first time, the agency is proposing putting a crash test dummy in the back seat during front-impact crash tests. The final rule revisions are expected to be finalized by the end of 2016, and thus would be used for the updated rating system on 2019 model year vehicles. 

Over the past 40 years, crash tests that analyzed front-end collisions only involved putting dummies in the front seat. As a result of the findings in these crash tests, there were huge changes to the safety features that are available to front seat passengers. These include things like better airbags, restraints and seats that absorb shock in crashes. But the impact of front-end crashes on back seat passengers has never been closely analyzed.

There are a few vehicle manufacturers who have taken it upon themselves to adopt certain protections in the rear. Those include side airbags, rear seat belt reminders and seat belt pre-tensioners. However, these features are rare and there is no consistency.

The crash test dummy program started in 1978. There is an erroneous assumption that when a vehicle has that coveted 5-star safety rating, it means excellent safety for all passengers. That’s not true. Back seat passengers can’t expect that same level of protection in car accidents.

This is especially true with a number of cases in which the front seat collapses into the back. This happens even in low-impact crashes, and it’s resulted in not only killing the front seat occupants, but often the children seated behind them too.

This is reportedly what happened back in November 2010 to a young family in Houston, TX. As reported by Bloomberg News, the family was struck from behind by another vehicle at 55 mph. The driver said he felt his seat being pushed back “like a rocket.” He didn’t realize it at first, but he’d slammed into his 1-year-old daughter’s head. She died soon thereafter of traumatic brain injury.

There is also another kind of injury prevalent to back seat passengers called “partition face,” a term coined by emergency room doctors and nurses. This occurs when a back seat passenger in a taxi does not wear a seat belt and is then, in a rear-end collision, is thrust into the Plexiglass barrier in front of their face. This can result in stitches, a concussion or even a fractured eye socket or traumatic brain injury. Too many people forego the seat belt in a cab because they erroneously assume they are safer in a commercial vehicle.

A spokeswoman for NHTSA said that the inattention to backseat passengers in recent years has not been malicious, but rather the issues raised are expensive propositions. However, given the serious consequences of a failure to act, the spokeswoman said it was time.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Crash-Test Dummies Get in Back Seat to Make Uber Riders Safer, May 25, 2016, By Jeff Plungis, Bloomberg

More Blog Entries:

Florida Lawmakers to Study Tossing No Fault Coverage, May 27, 2016, West Palm Beach Car Accident Lawyer Blog