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Rear seat safety: variation in protection by occupant, crash and vehicle characteristics

Durbin, Dennis R.; Jermakian, Jessica S.; Kallan, Michael J.; McCartt, Anne T.; Arbogast, Kristy B.; Zonfrillo, Mark R.; Myers, Rachel K.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
July 2015

Objectives: Current information on the safety of rear row occupants of all ages is needed to inform further advances in rear seat restraint system design and testing. The objectives of this study were to describe characteristics of occupants in the front and rear rows of model year 2000 and newer vehicles involved in crashes and determine the risk of serious injury for restrained crash-involved rear row occupants and the relative risk of fatal injury for restrained rear row vs. front passenger seat occupants by age group, impact direction, and vehicle model year.
Method: Data from the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS) and Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) were queried for all crashes during 2007–2012 involving model year 2000 and newer passenger vehicles. Data from NASS-CDS were used to describe characteristics of occupants in the front and rear rows and to determine the risk of serious injury (AIS 3+) for restrained rear row occupants by occupant age, vehicle model year, and impact direction. Using a combined data set containing data on fatalities from FARS and estimates of the total population of occupants in crashes from NASS-CDS, logistic regression modeling was used to compute the relative risk (RR) of death for restrained occupants in the rear vs. front passenger seat by occupant age, impact direction, and vehicle model year.
Results: Among all vehicle occupants in tow-away crashes during 2007–2012, 12.3% were in the rear row where the overall risk of serious injury was 1.3%. Among restrained rear row occupants, the risk of serious injury varied by occupant age, with older adults at the highest risk of serious injury (2.9%); by impact direction, with rollover crashes associated with the highest risk (1.5%); and by vehicle model year, with model year 2007 and newer vehicles having the lowest risk of serious injury (0.3%). Relative risk of death was lower for restrained children up to age 8 in the rear compared with passengers in the right front seat (RR = 0.27, 95% CI 0.12–0.58 for 0–3 years, RR = 0.55, 95% CI 0.30–0.98 for 4–8 years) but was higher for restrained 9–12-year-old children (RR = 1.83, 95% CI 1.18–2.84). There was no evidence for a difference in risk of death in the rear vs. front seat for occupants ages 13-54, but therewas some evidence for an increased relative risk of death for adults age 55 and older in the rear vs. passengers in the right front seat (RR = 1.41, 95% CI 0.94–2.13), though we could not exclude the possibility of no difference. After controlling for occupant age and gender, the relative risk of death for restrained rear row occupants was signi cantly higher than that of front seat occupants in model year 2007 and newer vehicles and signi cantly higher in rear and right side impact crashes.
Conclusions: Results of this studyextend prior research on the relative safety of the rear seat compared with the front by examining a more contemporary eet of vehicles. The rear row is primarily occupied by children and adolescents, but the variable relative risk of death in the rear compared with the front seat for occupants of different age groups highlights the challenges in providing optimal protection to a wide range of rear seat occupants. Findings of an elevated risk of death for rear row occupants, as compared with front row passengers, in the newest model year vehicles provides further evidence that rear seat safety is not keeping pace with advances in the front seat.