Given a choice, adults will usually pick a subway seat that faces forward, a study of passengers on Washington's Metro system concludes.

But children usually choose a rear-facing seat -- a finding that researchers say suggests a way to design safer school buses.

Previous research has shown that people survive crashes best in rear-facing seats, Alison M. Trinkoff writes in the American Journal of Public Health. The impact of a frontal crash is absorbed by the whole body instead of just the part restrained by a seat belt.

Airplanes and most buses are not designed that way, she says, "possibly due to an assumption that such seating would not be accepted by the public."

Trinkoff's researchers watched people getting on Metro cars between 1:10 and 2:30 p.m., when there are enough seats that everyone has a choice. Among adults, 29 percent chose to face the back of the car, and the rest faced either the front or sat in a side-facing seat.

For children, the result was just the opposite: 71 percent faced the back.

"Perhaps a choice of orientation could be offered on planes or buses, as is available on light and heavy rail trains," Trinkoff writes. "Children riding school buses might prefer to have the option of facing rearward."