Consumer Correspondent Susan Koeppen reports for The Early Show.
Ludy Galiana was a beauty, a commercial actress who fled Cuba, seeking a better life for herself and her children.
Did she know she was pretty?
"I think so," says Alex Galiana. He was the baby of the family.
The last time he saw his mother, she was getting into the backseat of a car, after a family get-together.
"At about 9:30 in the evening," Alex Galiana recalls, "I received a phone call from my uncle; he wasn't all together at that point."
The car that Ludy Galiana was in met all U.S. government safety standards. Her family sued the carmaker and settled out of court.
There had been a terrible accident on the way home. Ludy Galiana's car had been hit head-on by a pickup truck. Even though she was wearing a seatbelt, she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Crying, Alex Galiana says, "She was in the rear seat, the safest part of the vehicle, they tell us. I mean, she was in the safest part of the vehicle, and out of six people, she was the only one who died."
What killed Ludy Galiana surprised not just her family, but even the investigators on the scene.
During the crash, a small toolbox in the trunk went flying. It broke the back seat, slamming it forward. Ludy Galiana was crushed against her seatbelt.
Alan Cantor, an auto safety expert, says she would have survived if that seat had stayed in place. He was hired by the Galiana family to investigate Ludy's death.
Cantor investigates many cases involving cargo crashing through back seats, often re-enacting what happened. In a crash test, for example, it is easily seen how a small suitcase breaks through the backseat. One can only imagine what would have happened to the passengers sitting in the back seat.
A 25-pound suitcase is enough to go crashing through that back seat. Enough to kill somebody, Cantor says.
And it's not just suitcases in the trunk that can pose a risk. Cantor says any heavy, solid object can be dangerous, even your spare tire if it's not properly secured.
The problem: The way rear seats are made. They aren't always strong enough to hold back cargo in a crash.
Cantor shows the rear seat in a car identical to the one in the Galiana case to explain why the seat was able to fail and fall forward.
Pointing at the different parts of the seat, he says, "This thin wire is attached to a sheet metal clip right back here, and that's the only thing that holds the top of the seat in."
That doesn't seem like a lot. And Cantor says, "It's not."
It actually looks like something you would hang your clothes on, not something that would support an entire seat.
Believe it or not, in the United States, car manufacturers are not required to test their backseats to make sure they protect passengers against cargo. Cantor says we need stronger regulations, like those in Europe, where every car sold must pass a stringent cargo test.
Cantor tells Koeppen, "The European standard calls for two 40-pound suitcases to be placed back toward the side of the car that we're standing on, and they run a 30-mile-an-hour crash test, and the suitcases are not allowed to intrude into the backseat significantly."
European automakers say every model they sell in the United States also meets this standard.
Regardless of what kind of car you have, Cantor says there are things you can do to reduce your risk.
He explains, "The first thing to do is never put more in the trunk than you absolutely need. Don't carry things around all the time. It just reduces your probability. But if you are going to carry heavy things, push them as close as you can to the seat, and try to distribute the load so that it's even. And if you can, try to wedge them in."
Cantor says in a crash, this will reduce the force of the cargo against the seatback. It also helps to tie down any heavy items or to restrain them in a cargo net.
Alex Galiana says his family learned the hard way just how dangerous cargo in the trunk could be.
"There's seven grandkids," he says, "And they're not going to get to see their grandmother. And she would have been around."
For more information about rear seatback/cargo dangers and auto safety expert Alan Cantor, contact:
Web site: www.arcca.com