Ask LH: Where's The Safest Seat On The Train?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m new to train commuting and have been pondering the best seat direction to sit in on the train. I’m preferring a rearward facing seat at the moment because in an accident the seat will brace my body keeping me in the same position.

I may have a bit of whiplash but am unlikely to have the head injuries that those in forward-facing seats have succumbed to when they fly out of their seats — but what if they fly into me? Perhaps backwards facing at the rear of the carriage? Which carriage though? Does the crumple effect mean the back carriage has a less sudden stop then the front ones, meaning less injuries? Thanks, Curious Commuter

Dear Curious Commuter,

Bluntly, you are asking the wrong questions, because you’re starting from the assumption that train travel is dangerous and that the most important aspect is to ensure you aren’t injured. That’s an irrational viewpoint.

You are much more likely to be injured driving a car than taking a train. As this piece points out, 20 Australians are killed on public roads every week. In the decade to July 2012, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau identified 350 railway-related fatalities, and the vast majority involved staff and maintenance workers or collisions at level crossings (which are far more likely to be fatal for car drivers than for train passengers). No element of life is free from risk, but your chances of dying in a train accident are extraordinarily remote.

Your questions also demonstrate that there are a huge number of variables involved, and you can’t possibly factor them all in meaningfully. For instance, you point out that the “crumple effect” might mean less impact to the back carriage — but what if a train coming up from behind ignores signals and runs into you? Do you need a different strategy for trains with reversible seats (common in Sydney)? What happens if you catch a Perth train where all the seats are on the outside of the cars rather than facing forwards or backwards? What about a Melbourne train where passengers often face each other?

Simply put, there’s no way of knowing what might happen in an accident, and stressing about this issue doesn’t make sense. In reality, on a rush-hour train you’re often grateful for whatever seat you can get. One thing you can be sure of: it’s less risky to be sitting down than standing, if only because you won’t fall over if the train comes to a sudden stop.

Rather than worrying about safety, consider other factors. Plenty of people experience motion sickness or discomfort if they’re facing “the wrong way” on the train. If you don’t, use this to your advantage and always choose a seat facing the “wrong way”, since it’s less likely someone will sit next to you. If you prefer silence, check if there’s a quiet carriage option. Planning your journey for comfort makes sense; planning for paranoia is foolish.


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