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The Middle Seat is the Safest

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

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The Middle Seat is the Safest

Faith Lapidus
July 14, 2006


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It used to be called 'the hump,' and kids used to fight NOT to sit there - the car's center back seat, over the drive-train in rear-wheel drive cars and usually crushed between two other people. But it turns out, the un-coolest place to sit is actually the safest place to be if you're in an accident. "The odds of survival is 1.25 times greater in the middle seat over the outside seats," says Detrich Jehle.

Jehle and his research team at the State University of New York, Buffalo, looked at four years of fatal accidents. They confirmed that the back seat is safer than the front seat, but their statistical analysis of the data showed that all back seats are not created equal. Jehle says it's simple physics.

"If you think about crash mechanics, a lot of the safety in a vehicle comes from having what we call a 'crush zone' around you," Jehle says. "A crush zone is an area of the car designed to collapse in an effort to absorb some of the impact from the collision without impacting the occupants. In frontal crashes, you have a large crush zone in front of you for the rear seats." But Jehle notes that 31 percent of deaths in passenger car accidents are a result of being hit on the side, not the front. "If you're in the middle seat, you always have a little bit of a crush zone when the car hits you."

In addition, he says, being near the center of the car places less centrifugal stress on the body if the vehicle rolls over or spins. And no matter where you sit, wearing your seat belt can make the difference between life and death.



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