IIHS Grouses About Passenger Safety in Rear Seats

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

iihs grouses about passenger safety in rear seats

The crash test dummies at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have been doing great work in ratcheting up the difficulty of their impact examinations, often requiring automakers to return to their drawing boards in search of the elusive Top Safety Pick+ designation. Now, the group is increasingly casting an eye toward how backseat passengers fare in a wreck.

According to a study released yesterday by the IIHS, several popular SUVs in the midsize category offer inadequate front crash protection for folks perched in rear seats. These findings were uncovered after the group tweaked their longstanding moderate overlap front crash test by installing a second dummy in the seat behind the driver. Although the test still includes a driver dummy, the IIHS is also now taking notice of rear passenger protection, making that metric a key differentiator of vehicles in this test.

“All these vehicles provide excellent protection for the driver,” said IIHS President David Harkey, “but only a handful extend that level of safety to the back seat.”

Of a baker’s dozen midsize SUVs tested, only a quartet - Ford Explorer, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Subaru Ascent, and Tesla Model Y - earn Good ratings.

A trio of others - Chevy Traverse, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas - scored a Marginal ranking while six more - Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler 4-door, Mazda CX-9, and Nissan Murano - were rated Poor.

At issue? Measurements recorded by sensors in the second-row dummy, which is sized like a typical 12-year-old youngster, must not indicate an excessive risk of injury to the head, neck, chest, abdomen, or thigh. Video footage and greasepaint applied to the dummy’s head needs to confirm the restraints prevented its head from hitting the vehicle interior or coming too close to the front seatback, while an eye is kept on the dummy’s risk of “submarining,” which refers to sliding forward beneath the seat belt in a crash. I’ve learned a new word today.

In vehicles rated Poor, sensors indicated a high risk of head or neck injuries to the backseat passenger in all but the Wrangler. That model, lacking a side curtain airbag in the rear, was deemed to pose a significant risk for those injuries. In that Jeep, the lap belt also moved from its ideal position, from the pelvis to the abdomen.

As for these rigs in terms of the moderate overlap test’s original criteria for front seat occupants, there were some odd findings. In the Traverse, the driver dummy’s head hit the steering wheel hard through the airbag, which is a scary notion. And terrifyingly, according to the IIHS report, the driver’s side airbag did not deploy at all in the Wrangler.

[Image: IIHS]

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