Driver and front passenger injury in frontal crashes: Update on the effect of unbelted rear occupants
Purpose: This is a study of the influence of an unbelted rear occupant on the risk of severe injury to the front seat occupant ahead of them in frontal crashes. It provides an update to earlier studies.
Methods: 1997–2015 NASS-CDS data were used to investigate the risk for severe injury (Maximum Abbreviated Injury Score [MAIS] 4+F) to belted drivers and front passengers in frontal crashes by the presence of a belted or unbelted passenger seated directly behind them or without a rear passenger. Frontal crashes were identified with GAD1 = F without rollover (rollover ≤ 0). Front and rear outboard occupants were included without ejection (ejection = 0). Injury severity was defined by MAIS and fatality (F) by TREATMNT = 1 or INJSEV = 4. Weighted data were determined. The risk for MAIS 4+F was determined using the number of occupants with known injury status MAIS 0+F. Standard errors were determined.
Results: The risk for severe injury was 0.803 ± 0.263% for the driver with an unbelted left rear occupant and 0.100 ± 0.039% with a belted left rear occupant. The driver's risk was thus 8.01 times greater with an unbelted rear occupant than with a belted occupant (P <.001). With an unbelted right rear occupant behind the front passenger, the risk for severe injury was 0.277 ± 0.091% for the front passenger. The corresponding risk was 0.165 ± 0.075% when the right rear occupant was belted. The front passenger's risk was 1.68 times greater with an unbelted rear occupant behind them than a belted occupant (P <.001). The driver's risk for MAIS 4+F was highest when their seat was deformed forward. The risk was 9.94 times greater with an unbelted rear occupant than with a belted rear occupant when the driver's seat deformed forward. It was 13.4 ± 12.2% with an unbelted occupant behind them and 1.35 ± 0.95% with a belted occupant behind them.
Conclusions: Consistent with prior literature, seat belt use by a rear occupant significantly lowered the risk for severe injury to belted occupants seated in front of them. The reduction was greater for drivers than for front passengers. It was 87.5% for the driver and 40.6% for the front passenger. These results emphasize the need for belt reminders in all seating positions.