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IIHS study raises questions about rear-seat safety

South Carolina requires all passenger vehicle occupants to remain properly restrained at all times, but a recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that seat belts may not provide adequate protection for rear-seat passengers. The road safety advocacy group says that auto makers should install the same kind of safety features in the rear of their vehicles as they do in the front, and the organization also wants federal crash tests to be revised so that more attention is paid to the injuries suffered by rear-seat passengers.

According to the IIHS, injuries suffered by rear-seat passengers are often more severe than they could be because rear seat belts rarely feature force limiters and rear airbags are far less effective than driver and front-seat passenger airbags. Force limiters reduce the severity of whiplash injuries by relaxing slightly as they cinch up in a crash. However, young children are likely safer in the back because the force of a front airbag deployment could injure them.

The study also found that the front seats of many new cars and SUVs can fail in a rear-end collision. The German carmaker Audi was recently ordered to pay $125 million to the family of an 11-year-old boy who was left with permanent brain damage because the front seat of an A4 sedan collapsed in an accident.

Seat belts are often a contentious issue in car accident lawsuits in South Carolina because of the state's comparative negligence law. Plaintiffs who acted recklessly may be awarded reduced damages, and not fastening a safety belt is considered negligent behavior. When police reports reveal that their clients were not restrained when they were injured, experienced personal injury attorneys may consult with trauma doctors to find out how badly they would have been hurt if they had buckled up. This could prevent damages from being reduced any more than necessary.

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