backseat safety

13 Apr 2019

What happens when you don’t buckle up in the back seat?

Posted By Darrigo, Diaz & Jimenez

For years, there has been this myth that riding in the back seat is less dangerous than the front. However, the truth is that passengers may be eight times as likely to die in a crash if they’re not wearing their seatbelt in the back seat.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, in 2015, 4.3 percent of 22,441 fatalities — or 966 deaths — involved unrestrained people in rear seats. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that unbuckled rear-seat travelers are eight times as likely as buckled rear-seat passengers to be injured or killed in a crash.

When a car crashes with a passenger in the back seat who isn’t using a seat belt, the unbelted rear-seat passenger can slam into the driver’s seat, pushing the driver into the airbag and steering wheel with a 35 mile per hour impact, says the IIHS.

Crash tests show that passengers not wearing a belt in the back seat are prone to fly up and over the seats ahead of them. This means that many back-seat passengers end up colliding with the steering wheel or dashboard at a greater force. Back seat passengers can also collide with those riding up front, causing injury to both parties.

The issue takes on special importance given the popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, plus taxicabs, where customers are more likely to go unbelted than in their own vehicles, says Jessica Jermakian, an IIHS senior researcher who co-authored the study. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, 1,018 unrestrained rear-seat occupants died in auto accidents.

The front seat has become safer than the rear seat

Improvements to the front seat include lap and shoulder belts with advanced features that reduce forces experienced in a crash and that minimize slack from the belt — few rear seat belts are so designed — and new types of air bags for the driver and passenger. While some car models have side rear air bags, these are generally expensive add-ons. People often turn them down to save money or to purchase other extras, such as heated seats and music systems.

Buckling up in taxis and limos

There is no data on injuries and deaths among unbelted passengers in hired cars, but in 2015, three high-profile deaths made the issue more prominent. CBS correspondent Bob Simon was killed after the chauffeur-driven sedan he was riding in crashed. Simon, riding in the back seat, was unbelted. That same year, Nobel Prize economics winner John Nash and his wife, Alicia, were unbelted in the back seat of a taxi when the vehicle crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike. Both were killed.

The most recent data — from 2014 —from the Taxi and Limousine Commission in New York City is that only about 38 percent of taxi passengers buckle up. Uber and Lyft occasionally send reminders to members to buckle up in the back, but the ride-sharing companies have no formal strategy on this issue. “We take safety very seriously . . . and . . . are always looking for ways to engage with riders and drivers to encourage good safety practices, like wearing seat belts.”

Until it becomes law in every state, reminders from the driver may be among the best strategies to get passengers in the back to buckle up.

If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries as a result of a car accident, we are ready to put our resources, experience, and unrivalled accident expertise to work for you and your family. We understand the seriousness of accidents, especially if seat belt are not worn. We strive to build the best possible case to obtain the compensation you need and deserve; and we ensure you and your family’s future is better, and more secure.

Darrigo, Diaz & Jimenez has been serving auto accident and premises liability clients throughout the Tampa Bay area since 1999. Led by Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney, Nadine Diaz, our firm is recognized as a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum®. We are here to help you and your family. Contact us by phone at 813-877-5548


  1. Krtiz, Fran. (2018, March 3). People who don’t buckle up in the back seat are running real risks. The Washington Post.
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