Mike Stevens | Aug 23, 2010

Despite the rapid advancement of modern safety technologies, a new report by Neuroscience Research Australia (NRA) claims that adults travelling in the back seat of newer cars may be at greater risk of injury than their front-seat counterparts.

The study compared the risk of injury to front and rear seat occupants in cars made between 1990-1996 to that in newer cars built between 1997 and 2007.

They found that while newer cars are safer than older cars, significant reductions in head, thoracic and abdominal injuries were only seen in front seat occupants, not rear seat occupants.

No models built between 2007 and 2010 were tested.

Associate Professor Lynne Bilston of NRA said that past studies in older cars have shown that rear passengers were at lower risk of serious injury and death than front occupants. Ms Bilston said the change is due more to the focus on front passenger safety rather than any backwards progress in the rear.

“We could save more lives and prevent more injuries if we paid the same attention to the rear seat of cars as we have to the front seat,” Ms Bilston said.

"Since the mid 1990s, front seats have improved enormously with airbags and better seatbelt designs in the front driver and passenger positions.”

The study found that while adults in new cars are relatively safe in the front seat, children as still safer in the back seat, in a properly-fitted and sized child restraint.

Ms Bilston said that while the Neuroscience Research Australia study is based on crash data obtained from colleagues in the US, most of the relevant safety systems are "very similar" to their local equivalents.

“We are calling on the Government and crash test programs, such as the Australian New Car Assessment Program, to shift some of their focus to the rear seat,” she said.

The topic of rear passenger safety is far from being ignored by manufacturers however, with Toyota revealing last year the world's first centre airbag for the rear seat.

Developed to help reduce the severity of injuries incurred in side-on collisions, the airbag would be fitted to the rear-seat centre console of four-seat Toyota models and is designed to deploy when the car is hit from the side.

ANCAP has also not been quiet in the push for safer vehicles, with Chair Lauchlan McIntosh calling on Australia's political parties to examine their positions on safety regulations.

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