Study: Reclining car seat increases risk of serious, fatal injury

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by JOYCE TAYLOR / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @JoyceTaylorKING

KING5.com

Posted on June 14, 2010 at 10:48 PM

Do you ever recline in a passenger seat to stretch out or get some rest? Many of us do, but most of us don't know that if you're in accident, you are much more likely to be killed if you're in a reclining position.

"You must be careful because the coffee is very hot," said Prashant Kumar, car accident survivor.

Kumar knows it's a miracle he's here reading to his 3-year-old daughter. 

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

Kumar lost both legs and nearly died. He was a passenger, wearing a seatbelt, his seat was reclined.

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

Harborview Medical Center Director of Emergency Services Dr. Eileen Bulger specializes in trauma and critical care and noticed a pattern in reclining seat accidents.

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

Bulger was so concerned she compiled data from around the country. The results are startling.

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

The study showed that partially reclined passengers involved in an accident increased their risk of death by 15 percent.  Fully reclined passengers increased their risk by 70 percent.

"It makes both airbags and seatbelts less effective," said Bulger.

Dr. Adrian Lund is president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the organization that conducts crash safety tests.

"What people need to understand is that when we test vehicles for how well they'll protect you in a crash, we are assuming that people are seated upright in the seat," said Lund.

Lund says safety tests have never been done with the seat reclined.

"Having the seat reclined means you're not protected the way the vehicle was designed to protect you," said Lund.

And most seem unaware of the danger.

"If I'm a passenger, I do it all the time. It's comfortable," said one passenger.

"I'm trusting the driver not to be in an accident," said another.

"There's no safety features on any car that tell you if it's good or bad," said another.

Lund says that's not quite true.

"On this particular manual, there's a warning on the next page," said Lund.

In fact, all of the manuals we checked warned 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.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers "generally agrees" with the findings of Bulger's study. 

So, we asked about the possible placement of additional warnings on the dash or visor and the alliance said those spaces are regulated by the federal government. A spokesperson from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined to be interviewed.

Prashant 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.

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

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