A car’s tires, according to the old adage, are “where the rubber meets the road.” However, another component of the vehicle is equally as important for passenger safety, and scrutiny from two U.S. senators is showing that the component is not nearly as secure as most are led to believe.
It’s your car seat – the very thing responsible for supporting your body within the confines of your vehicle. And evidence is showing that while it may do a fine job of protecting you in the event of a collision, the news is not nearly as optimistic for your back seat passengers.
Letters have been sent from the senators’ offices to virtually every major auto manufacturer asking for comment on the possibility that a collapse of the front seat during an impact may harm, or even kill, back seat occupants.
The concern stems from the fact that standards regulating the strength of materials and design of seat backs haven’t undergone any sort of significant change in over 60 years. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration actually tried to update the standard in 1974 but that change was never completed. And, while vehicle engineering and materials have made the odds of surviving an auto collision the best in history, little of that improvement has happened within the vehicle seat itself.
Evidence strongly supports the legislators’ inquiry. In the past 15 years, some 50 children have been killed in rear-end collisions when they were seated directly behind a front seat occupant. At the same time, a trade group representing 12 major auto manufacturers says that most seat backs are manufactured to between three and four times the regulated strength requirements.
If it seems like the trade group is comparing apples to oranges, it’s because they are. Modern materials easily account for the ability to exceed 60-year old safety regulations. Stronger plastics and metals; not to mention carbon fiber and modern engineering techniques, simply didn’t exist when the regulations were written. As a result, these materials are better than the systems they were designed to be used within. Set the bar low enough and anything can be three or four times the regulated strength requirements. The question then becomes whether sufficient effort has been made to improve the overall package; not just a single aspect of it.
While not directly addressing the inquiry, the trade group goes on to say that they believe that “the single best safety system for occupants in the rear seats is the seat belt.”
True as this may be, the collapse of the seat in front of you is probably fairly important to avoid as well.