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Rear Seat Fatalities from Seatback Failure: Seat Strength Standards Unchanged in 30 Years

Recently, CBS News released the results of their six-year investigation which revealed the potential dangers of vehicle seatbacks during a rear-end collision. Vehicle seatback failure injuries occur when the front seat of a vehicle collapses backwards after a rear-end collision, falling into the occupant of the backseat. Investigators found that crash tests have shown the danger of collapsing seatbacks for decades. Alleged seatbelt failures are to blame in more than 100 accidents over the past 30 years.

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 207 titled “Seating Systems” was adopted in 1967. This standard establishes requirements for seats, their attachment assemblies, and their installation. Almost as soon as the Standard was adopted, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began receiving warnings of weak seatback design and inadequate performance standards from automotive engineers. By 1974, NHTSA claimed it was working on developing new rules for seating systems and its aim to create a new standard. After 30 years of no new standards, NHTSA terminated the rulemaking proceedings in 2004, claiming it needed additional data and research. As a result, no federal comprehensive seat safety standards have been introduced since 1967.

In 2016, the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) began to petition NHTSA and the DOT on the hazards of collapsing seatbacks and the potential injury to passengers. In July 2020, several U.S. senators introduced the Modernizing Seatback Safety Act. It is the fourth of a series of auto safety bills introduced to target out-of-date safety laws and particularly to upgrade FMVSS No. 207. However, it could be several months or years until major systemic changes occur.

Why should this matter to Texas drivers? Rear-end crashes are the most common types of crashes in the United States. One analysis of U.S. national crash data indicated that in both frontal and rear-end impacts involving vehicles from model years 2007 or newer, the risk of injury and fatality for rear seated occupants has been increasing. Specifically as rideshare services become more prominent in major Texas cities, it is more common for passengers to sit in the rear seat. These rear-seat occupants are at a higher risk of serious injury or fatality in rear impact collisions. One study showed that the six-fastest growing cities in the U.S. are in Texas. With more people, there will be more cars on the roads, which will mean more collisions. As there are no comprehensive rear impact protection standards in the United States, the risk of seatback failures in rear-end collisions will continue to be a danger to back-seat passengers.

If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of vehicle seatback failure during a rear-end collision, please contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 1-800-594-4884.

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