- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

Researchers recently have discovered two common practices that greatly increase your chance of being injured while traveling.

While most people agree that it's necessary to wear your seat belt while riding in the front seat, they think it's OK to travel unbelted in the back seat. It isn't. Princess Diana, for example, died from internal injuries suffered when she was thrown around as a back-seat passenger.

Research in Japan found that the risk to front-seat passengers increases as much as five times when unbelted rear-seat riders are thrown forward in an accident. They can push the front-seat occupant into the dashboard or windshield.

On many long trips, front-seat passengers may recline the seat back and catch a few Z's. But researchers in Oregon have found that you increase your risk of injury to your spine, head, neck, chest, trachea and esophagus by doing so.

Seat belts are designed to protect passengers sitting in an upright position. If you recline the seat, you risk sliding under the seat belt.

The shoulder belt no longer holds your upper body in place, and the lap belt could cause additional injuries.

And, no, that doesn't mean that you would be better off with no seat belt at all.

There is a solution but not one that is likely to be practical for passenger vehicles. Race-car drivers have long utilized a six-point belt system, which includes a belt that runs from below the seat up between the driver's legs. That belts keeps the driver from "submarining" from under lap and shoulder belts. It would be a hard sell to the public.

Travel at highway speeds is not nearly as likely to generate submarining as racing speeds are, at least if the occupant is seated in an upright position.

Bottom line, if you are riding in the passenger seat and you need to snooze, you're safer if you stay in a more upright position.

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