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What Is a Rumble Seat?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2014
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A rumble seat is an extra seat on a vintage vehicle designed to provide seating for one or more additional passengers on the outside of the car. This arrangement was abandoned in the late 1930s because it was deemed both dangerous and uncomfortable, as passengers were exposed to weather elements, in addition to being prone to severe injuries in accidents. Rumble seats can still be seen on some vintage cars, although they are rarely used except when the car is driven very slowly and in a controlled environment, like a parade.

The rumble seat design consists of a fold-out seat, usually situated near the trunk. The seat is typically upholstered for comfort, and people tend to face towards the rear of the vehicle when they sit on a rumble seat, at least in most designs. This seating mimics the exterior seats once used on carriages to provide a space for servants. It was considered inappropriate for them to ride in the carriage itself with their employers, so they were obliged to sit outside, along with the luggage.

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This seating design could be used to accommodate additional people on a drive and was also used in the same way exterior seating on carriages was, to provide a method for transporting servants without having to carry them in the car itself. The rumble seat could be narrow enough to fit only one, or might be designed as a bench to hold more people. Generally, the seating was not terribly comfortable, especially in inclement weather or when cars were driving quickly.

One significant disadvantage of the rumble seat design was the complete lack of protection in crashes. People seated on the exterior of a vehicle could be at risk of decapitation and other gruesome injuries, as the body of the car offered no protection for them. They also risked falling and being injured in fast cars, and could be hit by objects thrown up from the roadway, such as sticks and stones. This made the seating rather hazardous for occupants.

While some cars retain their rumble seats because of their vintage, generally people are not allowed to ride in the seat except in special circumstances. Many regions have seat belt laws, requiring that people be belted while in a moving car, and passengers on a rumble seat can be fined for not wearing seat belts, since these safety features are usually not included in the seat design although they can be added. Drivers are also usually concerned about the risk of injury to passengers in such seats, and prefer not to use them if possible.

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