Second Row or Third Row?  Who is Safer?Which child in the photo is safest?  Over six years ago, an article in USA Today created a lot of hysteria among parents.  In particular, one questionable statistic worried a lot of parents and some came to our forums looking for the truth.  The statistic was sensational, it said, “When a minivan with a third-row occupant is hit from behind, the occupant is killed half the time, according to a Ford Motor analysis.”  Could this be true?

As we all know, you can find a statistic to support just about anything.  This one was so dramatic that I emailed the author for its source.  Unfortunately, the response wasn’t very helpful.  The statistic was apparently from an internal and proprietary Ford study, unpublished, no source of data referenced and never peer reviewed.  Hardly worth using, in my opinion, unless the intent was simply to cause unjustified panic.

Cause a panic, it did.  Many parents were understandably worried about the safety of putting their kids in the 3rd row of a wagon, minivan or SUV, even many years after the article was published.  It doesn’t even matter that the article was about seatback failure-related injuries to adults.  In response, I made a web page with something of a clarification for parents and caregivers.  While the webpage is no longer updated, the bulk of the article was recently moved to our forums.

The one thing missing from my comments was the same thing missing from the USA Today article.  Proof.  As is often the case with more obscure traffic safety issues, there seemed to be almost no statistics to confirm the common sense physics.  There may be some, now.  This abstract in the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention gives hope.  Without the full text, it’s hard to say for sure, but this quote is promising.  “The second-row has a 43.4% lower fatality risk than the front seat (0.30% v 0.53%) and the third-row is 58.5% lower (0.22% v 0.53%) for 0-to 7-year-old children.”

Another study (also a fee to view) from the Annals of Emergency Medicine apparently found that third row fatalities were somewhat higher than second row fatalities, but only for relatively uncommon fatal rear-end crashes.  More importantly, it also agreed that there is a slightly lower overall risk for third row occupants than for second row passengers in terms of fatalities in all types of crashes (from 1994 to 2004)!  This study also stated that, “The probability of death to the third row passenger is greatly increased if a restraint system is not present or is not used.”  Keep in mind this study included passengers of all ages.

Take these studies with a grain of salt, but they do appear to confirm what most safety experts have known all along.  A child properly restrained in the third row is quite safe, at least as safe as in the second row overall.  Choice of rear seating position can make a difference, but simply being properly restrained in any appropriate rear seating position is the the main factor in reducing fatalities.  Driving unimpaired and undistracted is another key factor.   So, it’s quite possible that the child in the middle of the third row seat in the photo is in the safest seating position, if only by a slight margin.  Until more studies appear, we do at least seem to have a lot more information than we had before, and without the unnecessary hype!