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Old 09-29-2007, 10:39 AM
Pushkin Pushkin is offline
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Belfast Northern Ireland
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Is a car's front passenger seat more dangerous than the drivers?

Are you statistically more likely to be injured or killed in a car crash if you're in the driver's seat or the front passengers?

Can't find any cites, but Mum said that this was information passed on by a police officer or fireman to her. This is in addition to her infamous "if that road had been wet/covered in ice/mud/landmines you would have crashed" statements, so bear that in mind.

It never made much sense to me, the driver having the steering wheel right in front of them to knock themselves out on or get trapped under. I considered that drivers usually have an airbag on lower levels of trim when a passenger might not have, does that sound sensible as an answer?
Old 09-29-2007, 01:21 PM
zagloba zagloba is offline
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That doesn't make much sense to me either. You see a lot of concept cars these days with center tiller steering instead of a steering wheel. One of the frequently stated reasons for this is that the steering wheel makes the driver's seat more dangerous. However, I don't have statistics on hand to back up this assertion.
Old 09-29-2007, 01:26 PM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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Originally Posted by Pushkin
It never made much sense to me, the driver having the steering wheel right in front of them to knock themselves out on or get trapped under. I considered that drivers usually have an airbag on lower levels of trim when a passenger might not have, does that sound sensible as an answer?
No data, but the way the idea that the driver's seat is safer was explained to me is that that selfsame steering wheel keeps you from going through the windshield. Keep in mind, this was before airbags.
Old 09-29-2007, 01:40 PM
susan susan is offline
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Location: Coastal USA
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Also, I'd assume that drivers reflexively pull away from a perceived danger (cow, landmine) and this puts the passenger in a more vulnerable relationship to the danger.
Old 09-29-2007, 01:49 PM
seenidog seenidog is offline
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Location: Platteville, WI
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Joking, if I am driving yes, the passenger side is more dangerous as I will do all in my power to make sure your side of the car takes the impact.
Seriously, the driver's side is more dangerous, because of the steering wheel. Crush damage to the chest from hitting the wheel is ugly. In the case of seatbelts in use, the passenger still has an additional foot or more of "crumple zone" over the driver before the collapsing front end turns into a formitable hammer. Even if you do not go to the mountain, the mountain may come to you.
In a car with driver only airbag, the driver might have an edge. In a car with dual airbags, I would choose to be the passenger.

My opinion is based only on personal observation of crashes I handled when I was a police officer, it is ancedotal, nothing more.
I have this all thought out, what could possibly go wrong?
Old 09-29-2007, 02:46 PM
Paladud Paladud is offline
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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[useless anecdote] In Russia, the front passenger seat is commonly referred to as the tyosh'ino mesto, or the mother-in-law's seat, presumably because of high fatality rates. [/ua]
Old 09-29-2007, 10:56 PM
Rick Rick is offline
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When I was growing up the passenger side was referred to as the suicide.
Now let's look at some facts.
Back in the day cars did not have seat belts. Cars did not have collapsible steering columns. Cars also did not have padded or safety dashboards. Depending on when it was built it may not have had safety glass.
In a frontal crash, the front passenger would often leave the car in a manner reminiscent of a pilot ejecting from a crippled fighter jet. Right through the glass. Oft times the ejection was not complete and the weight of the body drug the passengers head back though the hole, often doing severe damage to the neck. This would be especially true if the car did not have safety glass.
The driver on the other hand had a different problem. Most likely he could not be ejected as he had the steering wheel in front of him. This is good and bad. The good is he could brace his arms and absorb some energy with his muscles. The bad is he would take blunt force trauma to the chest. If the hit was hard enough and in the proper location to displace the steering box, the steering wheel might be coming backwards as he is thrown forward creating an even bigger impact. In some cases the steering wheel could break off and the driver get speared by the steering wheel.
Now let's look at a current car.
Padded dash, safety glass, with a plastic sandwich to prevent someones head from going though it. Collapsible steering column. Air bags on both sides. And most importantly a three point seat belt.*
Now let's look at the same frontal accident both with and without airbags.
First no airbags. Look at the passenger compartment. The driver has the steering wheel within arms reach. In most cars unless the seat if very far forward the passenger has to lean forward to reach the dash with their arms, and can't reach it with their head.
Now I am assuming that both driver and passenger have seat belts. The way a seat belt stops you is it stretches. You lower body is held in place, and your upper body is thrown forward. The belt stretches allowing your body to decelerate at a survivable speed. Now on to the accident. Both driver and passenger are thrown forward. The belts stretch the driver will hit the steering wheel, with their face and upper chest. The driver will likely look like they did a couple of rounds with Rocky Balboa from the contact with the steering wheel, which is designed to bend and break away. The passenger on the other hand will also have his lower body restrained, and the upper body will be thrown forward. The difference here is there is nothing like a steering wheel in arms reach. The passenger is free to bend forward at the waist continuing to stretch the belt until the excess energy is absorbed. I got to witness a crash test at 47MPH once. Two dummies belted in no airbags. The guy next to me snapped a picture at the perfect time. It showed the front of the car crumpled, the rear wheels had left the ground, and the passenger's head was almost in their lap, by the dummy had not hit the dashboard. The driver dummy had hit the steering wheel, which was deformed big time.
In the same accident with airbags, both driver and passenger will hit the bag before they hit anything. The bag will spread the impact over a much larger area, thus lowering it severity.

So which seat is safer? In the old cars, I would say the driver's was. A person thrown though a windshield was a horrifying sight, and a damn serious injury.
In a modern car, I would give a slight nod to the passenger side as being safer, owing to the fact that there is less stuff to hit.

*If you are ever in an accident where a three point belt saves your ass, please raise a glass to the memory of Nils Bohlin the inventor of the three point belt.


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