Uh, Yeah, Reclining Your Seat in a Moving Car is Dangerous

Yesterday I read this anxious cautionary tale from Emily Bazelon, warning people of the perils of reclining your seat in a moving vehicle. She did so, and was injured in an accident:

I’ve recovered nicely, thank you. But the more I thought about my accident, the more I wondered whether I’d inadvertently done myself in by tilting my car seat back—as I do on just about every long drive…The carmakers have argued that it is “common sense” that an upright seat is much safer than a reclining one. In other words, everyone knows, or should know. Maybe I’m the only clueless one out there, but I don’t think so.

I’m going to have to go with ‘clueless’ on this one (and the discussion forum associated with the article seems to mostly agree with me). I’m not sure if my parents told me not to do this, or that it was simply self-evident, but I’ve known for as long as I’ve sat in the front seat that it was a bad idea.

Bazelon calls for the the government and automakers to do a better job of warning the public of this lurking menace. She cites a number of medical studies and legal decisions, but fails to establish two essential facts:

  • How many people don’t understand the risk of reclining your front seat in a moving car?
  • How many accidents result from this behaviour each year?

Any sound argument for action surely must include these two numbers. Otherwise, Bazelon’s only got anecdotes and hysteria, and that only leads to litigation and ‘Hot’ labels on coffee cups.

UPDATE: Speaking of unnecessary warning labels, I was reminded of this Saturday Night Live sketch poking fun at such disclaimers by Yes But No But Yes.


  1. Depends on how tall you are. If I don’t tilt my seat, my head tends to bonk against the ceiling of most cars.

  2. It’s common sense. Emily has good commentary on political and legal matters, but this is total dip-stickery. If you can’t hook up the dots between your posture, your view and the car’s controls, you shouldn’t be driving.

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