Which Seat in a Car is the Safest for Passengers?

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Each year in the United States, millions of car accidents occur, resulting in countless injuries and a min-numbing number of deaths. Though these incidents almost always take the victims by surprise, there are several important steps to be taken to protect drivers and passengers from the devastating consequences of an auto collision. A recent study by the University of Buffalo, for example, confirmed that one measure, in particular, can be taken to protect oneself from life-altering injuries: choosing to sit in the safest seat in the vehicle. Few people realize that this small, fleeting choice could possibly save their lives. 

The Safest Seat in a Car

According to this study conducted by the University of Buffalo, the safest seat in a car is the backseat. Researchers found that those who sit behind the front row of the vehicle are 59% to 86% safer in the event of an accident, as compared to those who occupy the front seat. Although many passengers share a universal disdain for the middle seat in the back row, this was found to be the safest place of all in the car if ever the vehicle were to endure a collision. 

Those who occupy this middle seat are approximately 25% safer than those sitting to their left or right. The lead author of this study, Dietrich Jehle, M.D., added that the increased distance from points of impact in the vehicle, along with the extra elbow room, is what makes the middle seat so exceptionally safe.  

Jehle also noted that, in the event of a crash where the vehicle rolls over, significantly less rotational force is exerted on the passenger occupying the middle seat. Comparatively, more force is exerted on those passengers sitting in proximity to the windows, contributing to the relatively increased danger. (It is for this reason that the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, or the NHTSA, suggests that booster seats be installed in the middle seat.)

Additional Recommendations for Safety in Vehicle Seating

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The NHTSA further recommends that any child under the age of 13 years old be seated in the back, specifically in the middle seat. Although this recommendation does have merit and is supported by research, it is slightly weakened by a significant caveat: The middle seat can only function as the safest seat in the car when a full seat belt is worn by the occupant (as opposed to a seat belt that only extends across the lap). 

Keep this in mind when choosing where to sit your children in your car, as only those vehicles with a 3-point seat belt will allow your child to experience the benefits of increased safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discovered that children occupying the middle back seat will experience a reduced risk of injury in the event of an accident by 43%. Of course, these recommendations will be harder to apply depending on the number of seats and passengers in your vehicle. Do your best to adhere to this knowledge by checking your state’s child safety restraint laws and minimizing the safety risks with defensive driving techniques.

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