Where is it safest to sit on planes, trains, cars, buses or boats? Studies reveal where you’re most likely to survive if you’re involved in a crash while travelling

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • The choice of where to sit on popular modes of public transport can have a significant safety impact, studies have revealed

When choosing to buy a car, safety is a major factor for many buyers. Likewise, some flyers opt for seating positions close to the exits, partly due to them being easier to vacate in the event of an accident.

But the safest place to sit on various popular modes of public transport is much rarely considered, despite some sections presenting less risk than others in the event of a crash, with the choice potentially making the difference between life or death.

Car journeys have a relatively high risk in terms of deaths per year, with 1,711 fatalities in road collisions in 2022, according to final estimates in a government report. 

Of these, 44 per cent of the fatalities were car occupants, 22 per cent were pedestrians, 20 per cent were motorcyclists and 5 per cent were pedal cyclists. 

Air accidents also have a relatively high chance of the passenger dying, with European Transport Safety Council estimating that only 90 per cent of aircraft accidents were technically survivable in a study in 1996.

But thankfully, new technologies and advances in designs are pushing vehicle safety in the right direction each year.

Here, MailOnline looks at the safest place to sit on different types of vehicle if you’re involved in a crash when travelling.   

The back of a plane

An investigation of 35 years of aircraft accident data discovered that the middle rear seats of an aircraft had the lowest fatality rate at 28 per cent, compared with the middle aisle seats at 44 per cent

When booking a flight, most people choose seats for leg room, to sit beside the window, or to be closer to the exits.

People rarely opt for the middle seats in the last row, but these have been statistically shown to be the safest. 

A TIME investigation of 35 years of aircraft accident data discovered that the middle rear seats of an aircraft had the lowest fatality rate at 28 per cent, compared with the middle aisle seats at 44 per cent.

Seats in the back third had a 32 per cent fatality rate, compared with 39 per cent in the middle third and 38 per cent in the front third. 

Following a crash, passengers near an exit have a higher probability of escaping alive, according to a study published in 2008 from the University of Greenwich. 

The middle carriage of a train

Overall, choosing a seat located in the middle carriages may be the safest option in the event of a collision, according to Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers

Overall, choosing a seat located in the middle carriages may be the safest option in the event of a collision, according to Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers

Various studies have suggested that broken rails or welds are the leading cause of derailment on main tracks, and these issues more frequently cause derailments near the front of the train. 

Overall, choosing a seat located in the middle carriages may be the safest option in the event of a collision, Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, told CBS New York.

‘If you have a head on collision or rear end collision you are probably going to be safer,’ Capon said.

If you are making a seating decision based on safety, experts also suggested avoiding window seats, with Capon speculating that ‘you’re more likely to be ejected if you are sitting next to the window’. 

Safety experts also recommend that those opting for a rear-facing seat will be less likely to be thrown forwards during a collision. 

Trains are more likely to hit something side-on than head-on or from behind, according to the US Federal Railroad Administration.

The rear middle seat of a car

A passenger seated in the centre rear seat is less likely to be impacted by a vehicle intrusion in a collision, according to the Australasian New Car Safety Assessment Program

A passenger seated in the centre rear seat is less likely to be impacted by a vehicle intrusion in a collision, according to the Australasian New Car Safety Assessment Program

Data from a study published in 2008 by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, investigating the survival rates of occupants of passenger cars involved in a fatal crash between 2000 and 2003, showed that the rear middle seat is safer than any other occupant position.

It found that overall, the second-row seating positions have a 29.1 per cent increased chance of survival over the first row seating positions. The rear middle seat has a 25 per cent increased chance of survival over the other rear seat positions. 

Occupants of the rear middle seat were found to have a 13 per cent increased chance of survival when involved in a crash with a fatality than passengers in other seats on that row. 

The Australasian New Car Safety Assessment Program (ANCAP) also found that a passenger seated in the centre rear seat is also less likely to come into contact with the vehicle in a collision, as reported in Australia’s Drive publication.

But this seating position is also less likely to kitted out with advanced pretensioners and load limiters than the rear outboard seats.

A pretensioner works to tighten the seatbelt early in the impact in the event of a crash. The load limiter comes into effect once the force reaches a certain level, releasing the tension so that the passenger doesn’t pick up a seatbelt-related injury.

The front passenger seat is more likely to be impacted by crash forces than the rear seat, but in some cars this can be counterbalanced by the higher levels of protection for this seating position, such as seatbelt pre-tensioners, load-limiters, and airbags.

The technology means that for some vehicles, the front passenger seat can be considered safer than the rear.  

Based on ANCAP’s testing, for cars with three rows of seats, the third-row seats typically have fewer safety features than those in the second row.

Several third-row seats are considered ‘part-time’ seats and as such have worse geometry than second-row seats, both for the safety and the comfort of the passengers.

Additionally, in some cars with three rows of seats, the curtain airbags do not cover passengers sat in the rear row of seats. 

If the car is struck from the rear in a crash, the passengers on the third row would not have as much survival space as the first and second rows, according to ANCAP’s findings.

Towards the middle of a bus and farthest from the traffic

Passengers are advised to sit on the opposite side to the traffic to avoid out-of-control vehicles that have crossed over into that lane, according to Business Insider.

Seats near the front and back of a bus are more dangerous in a collision, with the safest seat generally between the tyres in the centre.

Passengers seated in the centre of the cabin are also more distanced from potential hazards such as windows and exits, according to Sege Seats.

For those travelling on a double-decker bus, Lo Kok-keung, a veteran engineer and instructor in traffic accident reconstruction training courses at Hong Kong Metropolitan University, told the South China Morning Post that the middle section of the lower deck was relatively safe for passengers in a crash.

‘The area is closer to the centre of gravity of the vehicle, so passengers will absorb less vibration and impact force when the vehicle collides with something,’ Lo said.

‘When the vehicle brakes suddenly or hits something, the inertia will push people forward. Passengers at the front may be thrown through the windscreen and fall in front of the vehicle. Those in the middle are most likely to hit the seats in front of them but remain in the vehicle,’ he said.

Lo also noted that the upper deck was certainly not the safest section.

He said: ‘The higher you are away from the ground, the chance of getting injured will be bigger when a vehicle overturns.’

Lower decks or cabins of a boat

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) received reports of 1,263 accidents (casualties and incidents) to UK vessels worldwide or any vessels within UK coastal waters during 2022. A total of 1,351 vessels were involved

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) received reports of 1,263 accidents (casualties and incidents) to UK vessels worldwide or any vessels within UK coastal waters during 2022. A total of 1,351 vessels were involved

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) received reports of 1,263 accidents (casualties and incidents) to UK vessels worldwide or any vessels within UK coastal waters during 2022, with a total of 1,351 vessels involved.

The MAIB investigates all types of marine accidents to or on board UK vessels worldwide, and other vessels in UK territorial waters. 

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has noted the dangers of having passengers loose at the front of a vessel when a boat is travelling at high speeds, as the forces there are more intense. 

An RYA spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The decision on where to sit on power boat will vary from one craft to another, depending on the specifics of the vessel and the seating arrangements. 

‘Passengers should not be in the forward part of the vessel, and should be seated comfortably around midships. They should have good hand holds and be facing forwards, and should not be seated on the sides of the vessel.’

The lower decks and cabin are the safest places on a passenger boat, according to Business Insider. On rough seas, the lower decks present less risk of injury from flying objects. 

For passengers in the cabin, it recommends taking refuge from flying items in the hallway.

UK Government

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