In the last 10-15 years, the auto industry has implemented a number of safety features for front seat occupants in vehicles sold in the US. In addition to the well‑known frontal airbags, additional safety features include such things as pretensioners to tighten up the seat belt webbing on impact; adjustable D‑rings, or upper anchors, to provide a more comfortable fit of the seat belt; and side impact airbags incorporated into the outboard side of the seat or in the door trim for upper torso protection. The vast majority of front seat belts also have load‑limiting devices, such as torsion bars within the retractor spool mechanism, to reduce the loading on the chest of the occupant, although some of these devices have their own special set of problems if not designed properly.
However, for the most part, the majority of vehicles sold in the US do not offer these same safety improvements for occupants in the rear seat. This is a critical oversight on the part of the auto manufacturers, as the lack of safety devices in the rear seats affects the safety of the occupants who typically are found in those rear seats– children and small adults. Safety devices, such as pretensioners and side airbags, would greatly improve the crash protection afforded to more vulnerable occupants typically found in the rear seats.
When purchasing a car, consumers should look for vehicles that incorporate these safety devices at the rear seat occupant positions.
LOUIS D’AULERIO, BAP, is a crash safety expert at ARCCA and one of the nation’s leading authorities regarding occupant crash protection in both air and ground vehicles. He specializes in issues related to seat belts, airbags and seating systems for both adults and children.