There is a pervasive yet erroneous belief that people in the back seat of a motor vehicle are somehow shielded from the impact of a serious crash. The truth is, those in the back seat are often at risk of injury.
Basic physics do tell us the greatest risk of injury occurs at the initial point of impact, and most collisions are frontal, which is why we still see severe injuries and fatalities occurring more frequently with drivers and front seat passengers. However, while safety technology improvements have focused on those in the front, reducing the overall injury and fatality risks, the same cannot be said for those in the back, and their injury/fatality rates have remained stagnant or increased.
The recent deaths of John F. Nash Jr., 86, the Nobel prize winner and mathematician portrayed in the blockbuster film, “A Beautiful Mind,” and his wife recently on the New Jersey Turnpike underscore this point. The pair were allegedly thrown from the back seat of their taxi, and they weren’t wearing seat belts.
Similar circumstances claimed the life of longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent Bob Simon, 73, a legendary CBS News foreign reporter who was ejected from the back seat of his taxi during a traffic collision in New York City.
These deaths come years after law enforcement agencies and safety advocates have been underscoring the need for people to buckle up. But there is a powerful cultural mindset that continues to grip the country, and that is the belief that being in the back seat is somehow safer. This is underscored by conflicting seat belt laws that would seem to suggest just that.
Drivers may be ticketed for the failure of front seat passengers to wear seat belts, but not for adults in the back (children are a different story). But speaking of children: They are barred from riding in the front seat in many states until they are 13. Again, this undermines what we know about motor vehicle accidents, which is that technically, no passenger is safe.
In many large cities, people typically ignore seat belt laws when in livery cabs and taxis, and they are allowed by law to do so because seat belt laws that apply to those in private vehicles don’t apply to those riding commercial, unless they are in the front seat.
A survey released last year polling taxi and limousine passengers revealed more than 60 percent didn’t wear seat belts.
There is now growing support for legislative changes to the current seat belt laws, with the primary goal of altering public perception of the back seat as a “safe” place for passengers, who don’t need to wear seat belts if riding there. Similarly, some want to extend seat belt laws to apply to those in taxis, livery cabs and other commercial vehicles to combat the notion passengers are somehow safer with a “professional” driver.
Speaking for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a spokeswoman noted the death of the Nash’s is a reminder that even people who are intelligent, logical and thoughtful can still be lulled into thinking “They have an invisible shield around them.”
In truth, the laws of physics apply to everyone.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Deaths of Math Genius John F. Nash Jr. and Wife Show Need for Seatbelts in Back, Experts Say, May 25, 2015, Winnie Hu, The New York Times
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