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Rear seat design - a priority for children's safety in cars

29 April 2013

A new report from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia recommends changes to technology and policy to better protect older children and adolescents in crashes.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

A research report released today from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) provides specific recommendations for optimising the rear seat of passenger vehicles to better protect its most common occupants — children and adolescents.

By bringing technologies already protecting front seat passengers to the rear seat and modifying the geometry of the rear seat to better fit this age group, important reductions in serious injury and death could be achieved.

In the US, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for children older than 4 years and resulted in 952 fatalities in 2010 for children age 15 and younger.

"Our review of the current science and data regarding rear seat occupant safety found clear evidence that use of a child restraint system (CRS) is protective for younger children," says Kristy Arbogast, lead author of the report and director of engineering at the Centre for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP.

"However, older children who have outgrown child safety seats and booster seats are at greater risk of injury. Many technologies that protect front seat passengers, such as load limiters and pretensioners, are not commonly found in the rear seat even though sled tests and computer modelling suggest that these seat belt features have the potential to reduce the risk of serious head and chest injury for rear seated occupants."

In addition to front seat restraints, CHOP researchers suggest that cues can be taken from booster seat design to determine how to keep kids who have outgrown boosters properly positioned in vehicle seat belts so the restraint can perform properly.

They propose that adjustments to the geometry of the rear seat – including shorter seat cushions, lower seat belt anchorages and contoured seats – could increase comfort, keep the shoulder belt in position and, in side impact crashes, reduce lateral movement.

"For children under age 13, the rear seat is still the safer seating position as compared to the front seat of passenger vehicles," says Dr Arbogast. "But we can do a better job at protecting children who have outgrown add-on restraints."

Read the report here.

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