By now, everyone understands that children riding in a car are safer in a child safety seat placed the backseat in the event of an auto collision. Seat belts, booster seats for older children and approved child safety seats have become the norm for families wanting to protect their most precious cargo.
It almost defies reason then that federal standards that oversee the safety of the front seatbacks in passenger vehicles haven’t been updated for 50 years.
As incredible as that sounds, a CBS investigation found that the core of the seat of most family vehicles is no more substantial than a flimsy aluminum lawn chair. Even with padding or a leather surface, a seat so inadequate passes the antiquated standards of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Crash test videos show that when hit from the rear, the front driver and passenger seat can collapse backward into whatever or whoever is in the back seat. At the same time, upon the seatback collapse, the front passengers can be launched backward often out of their seatbelts.
CBS reports that 100 people have been severely injured or killed due to seat back failures since 1989. Most were children. Seventeen children have died in the past 15 years alone, reports CBS, in otherwise survivable crashes.
Friedman Research Corp., analyzing data from 1990 to 2014 from NHTSA, found 898 children died in rear impact crashes when they were seated behind a front-seat occupant or in the center rear seat.
The reason for the discrepancy in the numbers is that the national database does not capture seat back collapse incidents.
NHTSA reports 29% of traffic accidents involve a rear-end collision, either at a low or high speed.
Parents buy what they believe to be the safest vehicle they can for their family, but even a five star safety rating does not address this major seatback standard failure.
Back Seat Failures Can Be Fixed
Sometimes, we learn the most from trials where discovery shows a jury what an industry knows but would rather keep secret.
In 2012, the family inside an Audi sedan was rear-ended in San Antonio, Texas. A seven-year-old boy was in the seat behind his father.
A Texas jury awarded the family $124.5 million in compensation because the father’s driver’s seat collapsed onto his son, causing the boy permanent brain damage, partial paralysis, and loss of some eyesight.
His younger brother sat next to him, but behind the front seat which wasn’t occupied. He was fine.
The jurors decided Audi exhibited gross negligence, but even still, it met or exceeded NHTSA safety standards. An engineer testified at trial that the seats are working the way they are supposed to. By collapsing backward they absorb the energy from the impact, but at what cost?
It didn’t help Audi’s case when jurors were told that the “fix” that is needed to make the seatbacks stronger costs just a few dollars per seat.
Most major automakers have these flimsy seats except Mercedes, Volvo, and BMW, which have upgraded their safety standards.
Changing Seat Back Failure Design
The Center for Auto Safety has filed a petition with the NHTSA to fix this serious defect that has existed for 50 years. The Center wants a new seatback failure standard and a warning to parents.
A small study from the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine determined that there was a doubling of the injury risk for children in the back seat behind drivers in most major automobiles. It found that rear impacts account for 15% of all tow-away crashes involving children bucked into the rear seats, though severe rear-end crashes are less common.
Adding to the problem, a child safety seat puts the child a bit closer to the front seat and potential impact.
Your Biloxi Personal Injury Law Firm
So, what is a parent to do if they do not own a Mercedes, Volvo or BMW? One thing we can all do is contact the NHTSA and demand stronger upgraded seat back standards for all vehicles. Next, look for other automakers who have decided to upgrade seat back safety standards on their own.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile crash, please contact the experienced and compassionate lawyers at Reeves and Mestayer. We understand how to investigate a crash and all of the components of your personal injury lawsuit.
Let us help you seek compensation for pain and suffering, injury, property loss, and lost wages. You can reach Reeves and Mestayer at our Biloxi office at 1-855-558-2977 to schedule a complimentary to discuss your case.