South Carolina’s seat belt law requires, with few exceptions, that every driver and every occupant of a motor vehicle being operated on a public street or highway be fastened into a safety belt.
However, there are many other states in which back seat passengers are not required to wear seat belts, or exceptions are made for those traveling in livery cabs or other public transport vehicles. This lends to the erroneous assumption that backseat passengers are somehow safer than those seated in the front.
For years, this was true. It’s why the front passenger seat position was often referred to as the “death spot.” Those in the front were simply closer to the impact of the crash, and often had few protections, whereas at least those in the back had the front seat to slow or stop their ejection.
However, technological advances have greatly improved the safety of the person seated next to the driver. Those include the installation of air bags and greater side-impact protection features. This is very good news, considering the front passenger seat is where 88 percent of adult passengers sit, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
But that same kind of focus on safety improvement has not extended to back seat passengers, and the disparity means in some cases, the front seat is now safer than the back.
Consider the recent fatal car accident that claimed the life of veteran news correspondent Bob Simon, 73, who was ejected from the back seat of a taxi cab when the vehicle crashed. He was not wearing a seat belt, which, in that circumstance in New York, where the accident occurred, was not illegal. While the chances of survival in any major car crash are going to vary depending on the kind of collision, the speed at which the vehicles involved are traveling and the type of vehicles involved, Simon’s untimely death is a reminder that back seat passengers are nowhere near as safe as many might have historically assumed.
It is true that children are safer in the back seat, so long as they are buckled into a size-appropriate restraint system. Children account for nearly 60 percent of all back seat passengers, while accounting for approximately one-quarter of all crash fatalities. That speaks to the effectiveness of child car seats and restraint systems.
Part of that is due the fact vehicle safety advocates and customers have made it a priority, and therefore so have auto manufacturers. However, the safety needs of adult rear-seat passengers are inherently different.
Aside from a false sense of security, another issue negatively impacting rear adult passenger safety is the lack of comfort of seat belts. While the front safety belts are carefully designed, those in the back tend to be clumsier and less comfortable. Plus, if a passenger in the front seat doesn’t buckle up, the vehicle will sense this and set off a tone reminding those individuals to buckle up. There is no such mechanism for back seat passengers who ride without safety belt protection.
In some states, it’s worth noting those who cause a crash could assert the so-called “seat belt defense,” where plaintiff’s damages can be reduced if it’s determined plaintiff’s failure to wear a safety belt increased the severity of his or her injuries. South Carolina is one of 31 states that have soundly rejected this argument (as has North Carolina).
Still, it’s a good idea no matter where you are – in the car or in the country – to buckle up.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
In car crashes, backseat can be more dangerous than the front, Feb. 13, 2015, By Kate Gibson, CBS MoneyWatch
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