Unbelted back seat passengers can become 'human missiles' in crash

Seat belt.
Seat belt.

Credit: Jerry Cleveland

Credit: Jerry Cleveland

The dangers of not wearing seat belts in the back seats of cars have been well-documented. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has renewed the warning, noting in a new study that unbelted rear passengers “can become human missiles” in a crash and injure those sitting in the front seats.

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When a car crashes with an unbelted passenger in the back seat, that person can slam into the driver’s seat and push the driver into the airbag and steering column with a 35-mph impact, the IIHS said.

With the popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, customers are likely to go unbelted, IIHS senior researcher Jessica Jermakian told USA Today. In 2015, 1,018 rear-seat passengers died in auto accidents, according to the study.

Awareness increased about rear-seat restraints after the deaths of Princess Diana in 1997 and CBS newsman Bob Simon in 2015, USA Today reported.

“That crash brought a lot of attention to the issue, but people still think they are safer in the back seat and they don’t need to buckle up,” Jermakian told USA Today.. “But the laws of physics aren’t suspended just because you’ve moved to the back seat. You still need to buckle up to get the best protection in a crash.”

The IIHS survey conducted last year found only 72 percent of the 1,172 respondents said they always use a belt in the back seat, compared to 91 percent who said they always use one when seated in front, USA Today reported. Many back seat passengers operate under a false assumption that the backseat is safer than the front, the study found.

The report also showed that people are least likely to buckle up in the back seat when they are taking a short-distance ride in a hailed ride.