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Seat Adjustment To Blame in Texas Teen's Tragic Accident

We know that this blog has been taking a stand against drivers who use their cell phone while they're driving. It's an issue big enough that the Texas Department of Public Safety joined others in lauding Oprah Winfrey's "No Phone Zone" that she proposed on a recent show.

But if you practice online defensive driving, there's another aspect of how you operate your vehicle that can have a serious effect on your safety.

Remember that cars are designed to provide a certain level of protection in the case of a collision. The crumple zones, airbag placement and reinforced beams are all constructed so that the average person will not be severely injured in the case of a crash.

Many people, though, enjoy being able to set up their seats so that they are comfortable during long and short trips. They move the seats forward or back, recline the seatbacks as necessary and in some cases drop the seats below forty five degrees, or midway between completely upright and completely flat. For comparison, that would make it nearly impossible for a driver to see outside his or or her window to execute a passing maneuver.

Unfortunately, it also defeats the purposes of a seatbelt. Vehicle safety experts testified as much in a civil case that came as a result of the death of a 19-year-old woman near Talpa. The jury in the trial awarded a $1.8 million dollar judgment, of which $810,000 is the responsibility of Hyundai, the car's manufacturer.

Evidently Sarah Goodner was a passenger in the Hyundai SUV, and her seat was reclined past 45 degrees. As it rolled over, the seatbelt was unable to restrain her and she lost her life in the collision.

While the automaker's attorney expressed some shock at the ruling, especially considering the five-star safety rating of a Hyundai Tucson SUV, the jury heard that the ability to make the car seat recline during driving could cause an unsafe situation.

It's a problem that is becoming increasingly apparent, not just in seat reclining, but in all aspects of driving a car. If you take a defensive driving course and then fail to treat the car like a device with certain restrictions, the consequences can be alarming.

"People have absolutely no clue about the risk hazards and dangers of reclining their seats while driving down the road," Plaintiff's Lawyer Jim Tracy told ReporterNews.com. "It's absolutely treacherous to do it."

In fact, although some are arguing that the judgment by the court could pave the way for design changes in millions of cars, similar to Toyota's recall efforts, it may not be enough to prevent accidents like this. People who take defensive driving courses recognize that cars have the ability to protect occupants if they are used properly. Unfortunately, many people operate them at the limits of their capabilities, not just in driving but in payload or seat modification and other means. Doing so, as the Goodner family can tell you, can have an effect.