While belt usage among rear-seat passengers is disproportionately lower than their front-seat counterpart, this may have serious consequences in the event of a crash not only for the unbelted rear-seat passenger but also for the front-seat passengers as well. To quantify that effect, the objective of the study is to evaluate the increased likelihood of driver fatality in the presence of unrestrained rear-seat passengers in a severe frontal collision. U.S.-based census data from 2001 to 2009 fatal motor vehicle crashes was used to enroll frontal crashes which involved 1998 or later year vehicle models with belted drivers and at least one adult passenger in the rear left seat behind the driver. Results using multivariate logistic regression analysis indicated that the odds of a belt restrained driver sustaining a fatal injury was 137% (95% CI=95%, 189%) higher when the passenger behind the driver was unbelted in comparison to a belted case while the effects of driver age, sex, speed limit, vehicle body type, airbag deployment and driver ejection were controlled in the model. The likelihood of driver fatality due to an unrestrained rear left passenger increased further (119-197%) in the presence of additional unrestrained rear seat passengers in the rear middle or right seats. The results from the study highlight the fact that future advances to front row passive safety systems (e.g. multi-stage airbag deployment) must be adapted to take into account the effect of unrestrained rear-seat passengers.
Copyright © 2013. Published by Elsevier Ltd.