Where is the safest place to be sitting in a vehicle in a crash? Twenty years ago the answer was clear: people were safer in the back seat of a car than in a front seat. Even a decade ago, that answer was the same, but today, with changes in seatbelt technology focused more on the front than the back, the answer about where to be in a motor vehicle crash is not so clear.

Safety researchers say today’s answer depends on the vehicle and whether or not it is outfitted with sophisticated seatbelts in the back as well as the front.

Modern seatbelts tighten when sensors detect that a crash is coming. The devices can also slightly loosen to protect vehicle occupants applying so much pressure against the seatbelt that the belt might itself cause injury in a crash.

Researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say that if you are 55 or older and riding in a vehicle without these new types of better belts in the back, you should sit in the front.

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that without these so-called load-limiting seatbelts, passengers are at risk of abdominal, chest or spinal injuries in front-end crashes.

A researcher at the Institute said “there was evidence of significant seatbelt forces on the chest of occupants of all ages.”

It should be noted that the older type of seatbelts – those without the load limiters that tighten and loosen depending on conditions – nevertheless meet minimum federal safety standards.

Safety advocates insist that more widespread improvements to rear-seat belts are needed to protect those who ride in back.

Regardless of where you were sitting, if you were injured in a crash caused by someone else’s negligence, contact a qualified St. Louis personal injury attorney.