The worst part? It’s a car accident scenario that involves our youngest victims: kids in car seats.
A recent article about a lapse in car seat safety in the Bellingham Herald details how the NHTSA knew about a safety problem when childrens’ car seats are located in the back seat behind an occupied front seat. In certain rear end collisions, ranging from mid-to high speed, the impact can send the front passenger seat careening into the car seat properly secured behind it. The seat or the occupant’s body can impact the child in the car seat to devastating effect. Since 2001, an average of 50 children per year have been killed while riding in the back seat due to an occupied front seat impacting them.
For years, parents and caregivers have been instructed to never seat a child in the front. In fact, it is the law here in Washington, and many other states in the United States. A watchdog group has said that the NHTSA, the government agency tasked with studying car accidents and monitoring vehicles’ safety, has known for a long time about this danger but hasn’t publicized it. Also the governing group has not pushed for better standards for car makers to design sturdier car seats.
Adopted in 1967, the federal seat standard is nearly a half-century old. To support their view that the standard is a joke, safety engineers have run tests showing that lawn and banquet chairs, and even cardboard seats, are sturdy enough to meet the strength requirements.
While the standards continue to lag behind the research, there have been personal injury lawsuits filed that found large sums of money for people and loved ones injured by a car’s faulty seat. Recently, a jury penalized Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit with damages of $124 million for a child severely injured in a seat collapse. Jesse Rivera Jr., who is now 11, suffered brain damage and partial paralysis in December 2012, when his father’s 2005 Audi was rear-ended while stopped behind a school bus. That’s even after the jury determined that Audi was 55 percent responsible for the child’s injuries.
This is hard news for consumers to hear. It’s tough when research shows one danger but lawmakers are slow to adapt it into safety standards. While it behooves carmakers to compete for the safest vehicle ratings, they will be weighing those investments against the return they’ll get for it, and the truth is, some cars perform better than others. It’s heartbreaking to hear news about children getting hurt or dying in crashes like this. It’s my hope that stories like this in the news will help people pay attention and adapt their own behavior, even while the car makers lag behind. So, the takeaway from this article from a safety standpoint: do your best to situate your children behind unoccupied front car seats, or, if someone must sit in front of the kids, try to have that person be the lighter or smaller occupant.