Comfortable? Yes. Safe? Not by a Long Shot.
Most everyone has fallen asleep as a passenger on a long car trip. If the sandman catches you unaware and with an upright seat, the result is often a stiff neck, stiff back, or stiff everything. So it’s easy to see why reclining your seat if you’re feeling sleepy would make for a more comfortable nap. You’re bound to doze off anyway, so why not maximize your comfort before you fall asleep?
As it turns out, there’s a very good reason not to recline your seat–doing so can dramatically increase your risk of serious injury or death in a vehicle accident. Though many assume that they are protected as long as their seat belt is buckled, this is a serious misunderstanding. When the seat is reclined, only the lap belt portion of the safety belt is in the correct place. The shoulder strap remains in place while the passenger’s torso reclines back with the seat. In the event of an accident, the passenger will likely be slammed forcefully into the shoulder strap, causing injuries that would not have occurred if the passenger had been upright.
If the passenger is not slammed into the should strap, the passenger could be pushed underneath the shoulder strap–something that is even more dangerous. If this happens, then only the lap belt functions to hold the passenger in the seat, and this is usually not enough to keep the passenger from flying forward into the windshield or from being ejected from the vehicle. There’s a reason that lap belt-only seatbelts are no longer used in vehicles.
Though there are statistics on the dangers of reclined seats, car companies continue to build vehicles with reclining seats. It is up to consumers to be aware of the dangers, and to not allow passengers in their vehicles to recline while the car is in use. Of course, if the vehicle is pulled over at a rest stop because the driver and passengers need a break from the road, then it’s perfectly safe, as well as comfortable to lay back and relax.