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Safety advocates calling on NHTSA to address seatback failure

By Butler Prather LLP on August 10, 2016

Consumers have become considerably more demanding when it comes to the seats in their cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles. No longer are they satisfied with front seats just being comfortable, rather they demand that they have things like electronic positioning, lumbar support and even climate control.

Interestingly enough, recently released reports indicate that consumers may want to start demanding something more of their driver and passenger seats: that they be built to withstand the force of rear end collisions.

According to these reports, there is a growing body of evidence showing that many driver and passenger seats can collapse backward in a rear end accident, propelling the occupants into the backseat at a high rate of speed.

While this could understandably cause serious or even catastrophic injuries to the driver or passenger, reports reveal that it’s actually backseat passengers — particularly children — who are injured the most when this occurs, often fatally.

All of this begs the question as to why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has all but abandoned efforts to upgrade seatback standards, which are currently exceedingly low and haven’t been seriously reviewed since 2004.

According to agency officials, the inaction on seatback standards can be traced to the fact that these sorts of accidents are “rare” and the supposed dearth of evidence showing that strengthening seatbacks would actually reduce the injury risk.

Consider, however, that at least one investigation revealed that over 100 people have been seriously injured or lost their lives because of seatback failure over the last 27 years, with 17 of these fatalities occurring over the last 15 years. Making matters worse, the majority of these victims were found to be children.

The good news is that this issue is no longer being ignored, as the influential advocacy group, the Center for Auto Safety, recently filed a petition urging the NHTSA to warn parents and take the necessary action to strengthen the seatback standard, something that that experts have revealed would not cost automakers more than a few dollars per car.

Furthermore, several automakers, including Volvo, BMW and Mercedes Benz have already taken steps on their own to make their seatbacks stronger than what is currently called for by the NHTSA.

As for what parents can do to protect their children, experts advise putting a child behind unoccupied seats and, if both front seats are filled, putting the child behind the lighter adult.

Here’s hoping we see action on this issue sooner than later.

Please remember that if you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one because of a dangerous auto defect that you have rights and you have options.

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