NHTSA Proposes Testing Backseat Collision Testing with Crash Dummies
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that it will begin conducting tests using crash test dummies in the back seats of vehicles. While many people assume that these types of tests have been going on for years, in reality the announcement marks a change in NHTSA policy.
The NHTSA began measuring vehicles with five-star ratings in the late 1970s. When the Administration began testing vehicles for the rating system, the ratings only applied to front seat passenger safety. This system never changed; as a result, advancements in passenger safety have mainly focused on the front seat. Seatbelt design, advances in airbag technology, and other types of back seat passenger safety devices have consistently lagged behind other technologies.
NHTSA regulators are hoping that by emphasizing back seat safety, the Administration can cut down on the number of backseat passenger deaths per year—particularly, the deaths of children in car seats. Young children are required to sit in the back seats, and are especially vulnerable to injury. Not only is this because of the lack of overall back seat safety advances, but also because most testing is done using adult-size crash test dummies. The NHTSA wants manufacturers to begin addressing both of these issues.
Delayed deployment of back seat safety technology is not primarily the fault of the NHTSA, however. While some types of safety devices, like more advanced seat belts, are relatively easy to implement, others are much more difficult.
For example, researchers and manufacturers have struggled to design technology that protects the front seat passenger from injury while not posing a danger to the back seat passenger, and vice versa. If a front seat is designed to collapse and absorb impact in case of a collision, the collapsing seat can (and has) injured backseat passengers. Alternatively, back seat airbags may protect back seat passengers, but the bulk and immovability of the air bag in the front seat would pose a danger to anyone sitting in the front.
While safety advocates have pushed for improved protections for back seat passengers for years, the impetus for the change in policy was not the result of worried parents. Instead, the NHSTA admitted that the loudest calls for a change in the way vehicles are rated for safety has come from Uber and Lyft passengers. Users of these ridesharing services often sit in the back seat. Before the rise of Uber and Lyft, many people had not spent much time sitting in the back seat of a car since their childhood. Ridesharing users were suddenly very aware that many vehicles have only a lap belt and no airbag to protect them in the case of a collision.
Whatever the reason for the change in policy, any new advances in safety that can protect passengers in case of a collision is a positive sign. Hopefully, the new focus will push manufacturers that protect all passengers in a vehicle, no matter where they are sitting.
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