Why Are Your Third Row Seats Of SUV/ MPVs Totally Unsafe?

I see a lot of buyers these days who get easily (and pointlessly) excited about three rows of seats in modern compact cars. Most of them are not going to use the last row of seats frequently, yet they acknowledge the practicality and convenience these cars bring. Initially, only SUVs offered third row seating or with jump seats, but later we discovered the seven-seat MPV segment in our market. In just few years, MPVs became a fast-growing mass-car segment. We so find compact and sub-4 meter cars are offered with seven seats like the latest 2015 Datsun Go+.

It is true that seven-seaters offers great practicality and utility, but what we seem to conveniently ignore is the occupant’s safety. The third rows are being squeezed indiscriminately into both SUVs and compact cars that are barely long enough to accommodate them, leaving barely inches between the seat and the rear of the vehicle. The safety importance behind the strength and design of the third row seats is also severely undermined by automakers.

Let me put the issue in perspective. Though a major chunk of car collisions are of frontal crashes and head-to-head nature, a notable amount of accidents do happen at and involve rear of the car. Especially those involving commercial vehicles like trucks or buses and a car, owing to differential braking distance and intensity. The key problem here is that, unlike frontal impacts which are absorbed by bonnet or short hood, the passengers are closer to the point of impact in rear collisions. As per fundamental physics, the vehicle occupants have the greatest risk of injury when the initial point of impact is closest to them.

Also Read: 2015 Datsun GO+: Should You Buy Or Not?

Plus, the upper part of the rear happens to be fragile and flimsy windshield. They collapse with little trouble and do not absorb the impact. The head portion of the passengers in a typical third row seat will be just few inches away from the rear windshield, and lie exactly on the angle of impact while involving an another non-hooded vehicle like trucks. So, the lower you are sit to the road, the worse the impact will be. Comparing to SUVs, MPVs are most often built on car platform with low seating. That doesn’t mean high-riding SUVs are less vulnerable, since commercial vehicles are way taller than SUVs.

High vulnerability: Third row passengers are closer to the point of impact in rear collisions

“The third row is pretty vulnerable to rear-enders — like about twice as dangerous” as other rows, says safety consultant Mike Brownlee, associated with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of USA. When a minivan with a third-row occupant is hit from behind, the occupant is killed half the time, says a Ford Motor analysis in US.

# Seat strength and design key to safety

Datsun Go+: Perfect example for cheap, flimsy rear seats without head rests

Distance between the occupant and the point of impact isn’t the only criterion. Seats have an immense functional importance with regard to occupant’s safety. The prime function of seat is to act as the restraint system during a crash. Seats absorb and safely distribute crash impact loads over the occupant’s body while holding him/ her in place, thereby preventing contact with the cabin components or ejection from the seat. This function is augmented by adequate head restraint – which limits rearward movement of occupant’s head, relative to the torso, preventing whiplash.

During a rear-end crash, if a seat back is rigid that it stays upright, the stiff seat can snap the passenger to some extent, provided he/ she is tugged by three-point seat belts. Instead, if the seat is so yielding to absorb lots of the crash force, the seat bends far enough backward, resulting the passenger to fly-off into whatever’s behind — windshield glass or tailgate, and severe head-blows are expected. However, too much rigidity may also slam the passenger forward at the moment of impact and then snap backward against the stiff seat, resulting in whiplash. Thus, rear seats must not be very stiff or fully yielding. Western nations are using prescribed standards for seats and occupant’s protection, but India is lagging behind in every aspects of car safety.

But what we get in our cars in India are more often highly yielding seats. The last row seats are not as strong as front rows, in almost all budget movers. Many of us think that the seat’s head rests are just for show and conveniently remove! A majority of our popular seven-seaters are not offered with head rests for third row seats either, as a cost-cut measure. Even my Ford Endeavour doesn’t have one. This becomes a major breach of safety, considering the chaos we encounter in our roads – more often we have to brake hard to avoid obstacles on our way – making passengers extremely vulnerable to neck injuries.

# Impracticality of the Practicality

Even though we consider seven-seaters as practical, they are impractical as well. Have you ever climbed on to the third row seats without getting jammed? Start counting next time how many times you whack your head against the roof while on ride. Of course, they are okay for short, occasional trips, and are foldable as well.

Utility and convenience should never compromise passenger safety

Once upon a time, buyers hated minivans and station-wagons for their ‘van’ looks comparing to other compact car designs. Subsequently, we did write epitaph for the estate or station-wagons in India. But all of the sudden, the convenience of seven seats in a compact cars have turned these ‘van-looking’ MPVs into hot cakes. We see new models flooding the segment every year. The idea of a “3-box” body-style has been totally altered by the arrivals of MPVs. Yet, occupant’s safety is supreme and should not be compromised for utility. Automakers should come up with remedies for the poor third-row safety and must step up their commitment towards car safety.

Also Read: Road Safety Starts At Home

Photo Credit: MotorBeam.com, 100hotcars.info

Dhiyanesh Ravichandran

Dhiyanesh is equally crazy about driving cars and writing about them. This guy loves everything with a steering wheel, so, at someday if self-driving cars take up all driving, he is sure to go nuts! He likes sedans of 90s era, esp W140 S-Class and R34 Skyline GT. Apart from usual motoring stuffs, he maintains a strong appetite for sociological perspectives on cars, their historical and cultural footprints. He owns a 1999 Fiat Siena passionately, and drives a Ford Fiesta.