The Safest Seat in a Car Crash Isn't Where You Think It Is

It used to be that the back seat was the safest spot in a crash. That may no longer be true. A new study has found that advancements in airbags and seat belts - which work together during a crash to keep a person in the proper position and manage forces on the body - greatly benefit front-seat occupants and that more sophisticated restraint systems are needed in the back.

"It's not that the rear seat has become less safe, it's that the front seat has become more safe over time," said IIHS David President Harkey in a new report. "We hope a new evaluation will spur similar progress in the back seat."

As soon as a frontal collision starts, seat belts in the front seat tighten around the occupants, thanks to embedded devices called crash tensioners. At the same time, the front airbags deploy within a fraction of a second. Depending on the crash configuration, the side airbags may deploy too.

The tightened belts and deployed airbags keep the front-seat occupants safely away from the steering wheel, instrument panel and other structure when the vehicle stops abruptly, even if the force of the crash pushes that structure inward. To reduce the risk of chest injuries, these belts also have force limiters, which allow some webbing to spool out before forces from the belt get too high.

In the rear seat, side airbags protect passengers in a side crash, but there are no front airbags, and the seat belts generally lack crash tensioners and force limiters.

Experts continue to recommend that children be strapped into car seats or boosters in the back, and not seated in the front, where powerful airbags can cause serious injury.

As for adults, if you have the choice of riding in the front or the back - such as when you are a Lyft or Uber passenger - you may want to opt for the front seat.

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