How Safe Are Front-Row Bench Seats?

CARS.COM — In sedans like the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, the front-row bench seat has all but bitten the dust as bucket seats gain popularity. But the bench is alive and well in many pickup trucks, including those manufactured by Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota. While the front bench seat is comfortable and practical in trucks, many people wonder if this option provides a safe place to sit for a middle passenger. Let's take a closer look.

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Safety of Front Bench Seats in Trucks

Unlike sedans, most trucks still have the shifter on the steering column, making the bench seat an easy configuration to accommodate. Many front bench seats in trucks have a center position that primarily serves as storage with a center console. In a pinch, the console can be converted to a seat. While the bench seat is good for storage and adequate for comfort, is this seat a safe place for a passenger in a truck? 

Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications with the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, acknowledges that while this is a common seating configuration for pickup trucks, the IIHS does not recommend using the center position on a bench seat rather than a center console on a regular basis unless it has both a lap and a shoulder belt — they often only have a lap belt. "The front passenger airbag is not required by federal standard to protect a middle seat occupant," Rader said. When asked if the IIHS has any crash-test data on the front center seat, he said that the agency hasn't crash-tested a vehicle with a test dummy in the middle position of any vehicle with a bench seat in the front. 

So what does that mean for child-safety seats in front seats in trucks? Simple: Don't put them there. "Child-safety seats shouldn't be used in the front seat — period," Rader said.

What this means is that perhaps a pickup truck's front bench seat isn't the best seating alternative to a minivan or three-row vehicle. If you're looking to purchase a truck with a usable front middle seat in order to accommodate your family, be sure the seat has a lap and shoulder belt, and don't put kids there. Better to use that front center seat in your truck for your purse or briefcase, and start researching vehicles with three rows with more appropriate seats for kids and car seats.

If you absolutely must have a truck, a full-size crew cab should provide adequate seating in the back. A four-door truck also makes it easier to load kids in the back. An SUV may be another option that provides adequate seating along with cargo area.

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