By on May 25, 2016

2014 Honda Odyssey IIHS Crash Test

Modern technology helps vehicles avoid collisions and prevents injury, but the potential for a deadly collision inside the vehicle is being overlooked, some say.

Seat back collapses have killed or seriously injured 100 people since 1989, a CBS News investigation found, and lawmakers in Congress are now joining victims in calling for action.

Although all new vehicles must pass federal safety regulations before they can be approved for sale, advocates say the standards for seat strength are too low. In a rear impact, front seat backs can fail, propelling front seat occupants towards the rear of the car, where they often collide with back seat passengers.

Children, especially those in front-facing car seats, are especially vulnerable when this happens.

A similar investigation by Fox News found 100 lawsuits claiming the death of a child was caused by seat back failure.

Both reports highlight the case of 16-month-old Taylor Warner, who died after her parent’s 2010 Honda Odyssey was rear-ended by a vehicle travelling 55 miles per hour. The child suffered fatal head trauma after the Honda’s driver’s seat collapsed into her.

An auto industry engineer once testified that strengthening seats would cost about a dollar.

Today, Senators Ed Markey (D–MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D–CT) plan to send a letter to 19 automakers, including Honda, asking for answers on the issue. Markey seems especially angered by the inaction of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“We had warnings on airbags for years. NHTSA did nothing. We’ve had warnings on seat backs killing children in the back seats. NHTSA has done nothing,” Markey told CBS. “This is just history repeating itself. It just has to end.”

While the NHTSA is aware of the potential for seat back failures, it claims it doesn’t have enough data to support changes to seat construction. The safest place for a child, according to the NHTSA, remains the back seat.

[Image: IIHS]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

38 Comments on “Congress, Crash Victims Want Action on Deadly Seat Back Failures...”

  • avatar

    100 people over the past 27 years…?

    Talk about a point of diminishing returns.

    I’m willing to wager that more people choke to death on food.

    • 0 avatar

      It sounds like fewer than five people a year die this way. Is it really that big of a risk?

      • 0 avatar

        There are more and more lawyers and fewer and fewer vehicle crashes and deaths (in the US).

        So the quest for business is more urgent than ever.

        At some point you’ll see lawsuits over “wild” paint colors as being distracting.

      • 0 avatar

        …..It sounds like fewer than five people a year die this way. Is it really that big of a risk?….

        Well, if the cost to remedy the problem is only a dollar (or a few) why not do it? Unlike many regulations that cost a lot or alter the vehicle in a way you don’t like (say fat A pillars) this costs virtually nothing and is completely transparent to the owner. Sounds like a no brainer to me….

        • 0 avatar

          If the cost is only a dollar, it is still barely a break-even proposition. If you believe a trial lawyer, your life isn’t worth $593K anyway.

          • 0 avatar

            Actuarialists are the ones who are in the profession of establishing monetary values for loss of life and injury in terms of ECONOMIC DAMAGES and there is a widely varying range based on widely varying factors.

            It seems mechanical, and almost blasphemous, to some for anyone to competences value of human life, but legal proceedings, insurance companies, etc., require that it be done.

            Of course, in legal proceedings involving the loss of human life or injury, there can also be and typically are NON-ECONOMIC damages requested of a trial judge or jury, and these values are not something that actuarialists are qualified to or attempt to address.

  • avatar

    There are 19 automakers? Where did they find 19 automakers?

    Are they sending letters to Mosler and DeLorean?

    I hope they’re not sending a separate letter to every division.

  • avatar

    I’d wager that WAY more than 100 people have been killed over the last 27 years as a result of rear (and front, but that’s a topic for another day) seatback collapses as a result of impacts/accidents.

    And I’d wager even more than thousands, and probably many thousands, have been severely injured as a result of such seatback failures.

    Here’s the sad thing: Without regulation, and left to their own devices, automakers will not bother installing the $3 in simple engineering and simple structural bracing components and materials of/in seatbacks to increase their resistance to collapse by a factor of 30x to 100x.

    Is this a fault of lack of safety regulation or the seeming irrational,zealous drive on the part of automakers to squeeze every drop of cost, for the sake of profit maximization?

    It’s both.

    And I know and can already hear the mass chorus of “but…but…vehicles have never been safer!,” but alas, that misses the point entirely when they can be much safer still with the expenditure of a bare minimum of additional material costs based on existing, simple engineering knowledge.

    This is Exhibit A as to why the gutting of Plaintiffs’ rights/claims through “Tort Reform” (caps on damages, partial or entire bars against particular claims, gutting of punitive damages, etc., etc., etc.) has harmed society as a whole, and although done to “thwart excessive jury awards that enrich attorneys and certain clients,” was akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    • 0 avatar

      Is there a way to do an aftermarket adjustment for this hypothetical $3 fix? Or does it have to be engineered in from the start?

      I’d blame more of squeezing every drop of cost out of them after Recall Bonanza Twenty Teens. The regulators are always chasing some sort of tragedy rather than being in front of things because, by nature, they’re regulators, they’re reflexive and reactionary.

      It would be an interesting trip down historical cost cutting decisions – from the Buick-cum-Rover engine where the big decision was whether a certain part had to be replaced after 100k miles, to the GM deletion of attachment points for straps in the big SUVs, to a $3 safety feature, to $0.25 of metal in the Epsilon II onboard body controller wiring.

      It would have been nice to have gotten a law that there was an IQ test required for the jury in civil litigation, and a floor instead of a ceiling like we have today.

      • 0 avatar

        Daubert was a SCOTUS case that attempted to address the ever after “dumb jury” “problem” by making sure expert witnesses had to be genuinely knowledgeable regarding very specific and often highly technical subject matters, lest they not be given the chance to “smoke & mirrors” gullible jurors.

        There’s no way it’s possible to eliminate runaway jury verdicts entirely given that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a trial by jury of one’s peers.

        This is especially true given the often emotionally jarring, visceral reaction to seeing, processing and wanting to remedy human tragedy.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree DW. In my line of work I’ve talked to many customers who’ve seats have broken from rear impact collisions. Yes it’s purely just my own experience but seats don’t seem to be as strong as they should be.
      If automakers are not forced to have better safety standards then they won’t even try. Just like those cars crash tested in India.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      DeadWeight, vehicle manufacturers put a lot of engineering effort into cutting weight in addition to cutting cost. If we want seat backs to be stronger in a crash, the engineers making these trade-offs need some test standard to prove that the seats are strong enough in a rear end crash.

      The tragic case mentioned in the article involved a 55 mph rear end collision. That’s an unusual and extreme rear end collision speed that may be outside what a IIHS-type rear end collision would test.

      • 0 avatar

        There are lightweight steel alloys and alternatives such as titanium (not much would be needed in critical, load bearing areas) that have FAR stronger properties than much of the low-tech, old school generic metal now being used for the seat frames, and it would barely cost more to utilise these much stronger alternatives.

  • avatar

    I’m sure each case is a horrific tragedy. Here is some quick vague math:
    Assuming there were about 8 million cars sold per year for 27 years in the US (if someone can find better numbers feel free to pitch in) and it cost 1 dollar per seat to fix,
    8 mil X 2 front seats x 27 years = 432 million dollars, divided by 100 people, = 4.32 million dollars per life saved. Maybe it would be cheaper if we took out 2 seaters and pickups with no back seats.

    • 0 avatar

      The 100 person number is the biggest error in your calculus.

      As previously stated, I’d NOT be surprised if the # of people killed or severely injured by submarining seatbacks in the last 27 years was 20x to 50x that 100-person figure that was cited.

    • 0 avatar

      There was an average of 235 million cars registered in the US at any given time over the period in question. Considering the average age of the US automotive fleet, those cars were replaced twice during the those 27 years. Now we’re talking about a hypothetical half a billion dollars to save 100 lives. We throw people away over thousands of dollars every day. No idiot tax is cheap, but this one has the potential to be another TPMS mandate.

  • avatar

    Yet, another Honda Odyssey issue. Quantity over quality and the bean counters at Honda have not helped safety issues.

  • avatar

    I spent decades of my career engineering seat structures. I sincerely doubt that there is a $2 fix that would significantly improve seat back strength.

    Seats use high strength steel, which has far better structural properties than titanium or any other common material. Right now, seats are designed so that every part is equally stressed. That means that to increase stiffness and strength, every art would need to be thicker and heavier. And, all the mechanisms, like recliners and tracks, would also have to be bigger and heavier. Not to mention the body to which the seats are attached. All this can be done, but at what weight and cost penalty?

    Plus, there are advantages to having the seat back yield. It reduces the accelerations on the driver’s body, and can even lessen his injuries.

    It’s not a simple question.


  • avatar

    …Both reports highlight the case of 16-month-old Taylor Warner, who died after her parent’s 2010 Honda Odyssey was rear-ended by a vehicle travelling 55 miles per hour…

    I have nothing but empathy for the parents. The burying of a child is not in the natural order of things. With that said, they were rear ended by a vehicle traveling at highway speed, I’m going to presume they were not moving. There has to be a point where systems fail and the answer is, it was a tragic accident.

    I just don’t see how the Odyssey is at fault in this scenario given the extreme nature off the accident.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s hard to see how the Odyssey is at fault here only because we assume that vehicles have drivers in them that are supposedly in control. Notice how the article mentions that the vehicle hit the Honda at 55 mph, with no mention of the human being that was supposedly in charge of the 5000 lb weapon.

  • avatar

    Seriously? While no death or injury is welcome, one death or injury per .0000000000000000000000000001 miles driven, and that’s probably overestimating, is a good thing. Unlicensed uninsured illegal alien drivers are a much larger threat.

    • 0 avatar

      I, too, fully support unlicensed and uninsured drivers, but only if they are native born or legal residents.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s no financial reward in suing unlicensed illegals. Don’t expect the ambulance chasers pursuing that problem, LOL.

      My buddy got hit in Phoenix and the driver actually started peeling off 100 dollar bills from a wad to get him to not call the cops.
      Then a good Samaritan came along, called 911, and the guy literally ran off leaving his sh!tbox car dripping coolant in the street.

      • 0 avatar

        A coworker of mine had his 5-series destroyed by an illegal alien who spouted off an obviously-bogus address to the police. My coworker was unhappy that they were letting an illegal go who showed no ID and couldn’t have fooled a Bernie supporter with his lies. The cops said, “that’s why you have insurance.” It certainly wasn’t why we tolerate paying for public employees.

        g2h, yes, his math stinks. So does yours.

    • 0 avatar

      ….Seriously? While no death or injury is welcome, one death or injury per .0000000000000000000000000001 miles driven, and that’s probably overestimating, is a good thing. Unlicensed uninsured illegal alien drivers are a much larger threat….

      I see math is your strong suit.

  • avatar

    I’m willing to bet 1000 times as many people were conceived vs killed as a result of a back seat failure.

    I’ll show myself out.

  • avatar

    I was a test technician in a prior life (about 18 years ago) at an OEM; and tested interior/exterior components. Seats are tested to specific NHTSA procedures. The lab where I worked had the A2LA-certified test equipment for FMVSS 201, 202, and 210. These are the seat testing procedures for interior impact, head restraints, and seat belt anchorages respectively.

    All automakers optimize their designs to pass FMVSS, but to varying degrees. In benchmarking numerous competitors, specific OEM’s would pass by a factor of 1.5-2x, where others would be at the threshold of passing.

  • avatar

    And what about the third row seat elephant in the room here. Kids heads are 8 inches from the rear glass, may as well store the buggers in the trunk! My A8 D2 is a mechanical mess but having a trunk and a certain mass makes me less worried about the little ones in the back.

    Also rear end crashes. Recent case here in Boulder where two folks were killed when rear ended by a Jetta doing 45Mph in a newish Honda fit that was waiting at a traffic light. This should not of happened? I was under the impression a low speed crash such as this was survivable.

    Of course let’s remember than in some countries NEW cars STILL don’t come with airbags or even ABS! Parents bought a new Hyundai Atos without either in 2010. Funny as I see them a lot here in Germany so I assume it was an option and they just choose to cheap out for the African market.

  • avatar

    I guess AEB will deal with this problem and hopefully become as commonplace as ABS.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • bumpy ii: “Stutz also made a six-door armored funeral sedan out of the Bear” Seems to me the armor would...
  • jimmyy: Gas prices are high forever. Ford and GM and Chrysler big pickups are dead meat. Nissan is just doing the...
  • Jeff S: @DenverMike–Except for a few Japanese made vehicles for the past 47 years I have owned GM vehicles like...
  • Jeff S: Happy 4th to all! Stay safe.
  • thehyundaigarage: Carbrite had a product for years called “beetlejuice” that is now called “omnibrite” Spray it on,...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber