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Reclined seat increases injury risk in crash

July 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's not uncommon for passengers in vehicles to recline their seat to get some rest or stretch out their legs. But experts say your chances of injury or death rise substantially if you have your car seat in a reclined position, even if you're wearing a seat belt.Crash survivor Prashant Kumar knows it's a miracle he's alive and able to read to his 3-year-old daughter. He still remembers when his car was hit head on.

"I was in a coma for two and half months. I had heart, liver, lung, and kidney failure," said Kumar.

Kumar lost both legs and nearly died. He was seat-belted, but his seat was reclined.

"I chose to recline because I thought it would give me a little bit of sleep and rest," he called.

Dr. Eileen Bulger, who specializes in trauma and critical care, noticed unique injury patterns in reclining seat accidents.

"You can impact your chest; you can have fractures of the spine; you can have head injury from your head kind of whipping forward as well. And, then the severe injuries to the legs come from sliding forward into the dash board," she said.

Dr. Bulger was so concerned that she examined data from around the country to determine whether what she was seeing was widespread. The results were startling.

"What we found was that driving in that position significantly increases your risk of mortality if you're in a car crash," said Dr. Bugler.

The study showed being in a reclined position makes both airbags and seat belts less effective. Partially reclined passengers involved in an accident increased their risk of death by 15 percent, while fully reclined passengers increased their risk by 70 percent.

"What people need to understand is that when we test vehicles for how well they'll protect you in a crash, we're assuming that people are seated upright in the seat," said Dr. Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the organization that conducts crash safety tests.

But Lund said the owner's manual that comes with the vehicle does warn that reclining a seat can result in serious injury in a crash.

"Unfortunately, most people don't read the manual to find out about this," said Lund.

Kumar was unaware of the dangers. Now, he's sharing his story.

"Please, when you get into a car, I beg you, please do not recline your seat," said Kumar.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) declined to comment in writing on its position regarding regulations of reclined seats in automobiles and declined to speak on the record over the telephone.

Prashant Kumar sued the manufacturer of the car he was riding and settled for an undisclosed amount of money.


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