IIHS Grouses About Passenger Safety in Rear Seats

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

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]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

More by Matthew Guy

Join the conversation
3 of 5 comments
  • Redapple2 They strove to excel and improve in this era ( on the cheap? ). They gave us Saturnasty and Northstarubish and the F150 grew in dependability and features over the Silveradoffal. -gm- a legacy of utter garbage.
  • Tane94 Yes and yes to both questions. GM and Fird have long used built-in-China components in their vehicles -- the GM 3.4L engines used in past SUVs being just one example. Why is the US so scared of China's manufacturing prowess? Why is the US so scared of China's ascendency to world super-power? Look at China's high speed rail network, including mag-lev trains, and then US trains. I would buy a China-built vehicle with no trepidation.
  • Theflyersfan Adding to what Posky said (and for once, I kinda agree with what he wrote), and as an auto enthusiast it kills me to think this, but why should auto makers care about enthusiasts any longer? Hear me out... It can be argued that the first real enthusiasts were those coming home from WW2, having served in Europe, and fell in love with their cars. And Detroit responded. That carried over to the Boomers and Gen X. The WW2 generation for all sakes and purposes is no longer with us. The Boomers are decreasing in number. The first years of Gen X are nearing retirement. After us (Gen X), that's when we see the love of cars tail off. That was the generation that seemed to wait to get a license, grew up with smart phones and social media, got saddled with crippling home and student debt, and just didn't have the same love that we have. They for the most part are voting on do-all CUVs. Yes, automakers throw us a bone with special models, but they tend to be very expensive, saddled with markups, high insurance rates, and sometimes rare. Looking at you Audi and Lexus. Friends of mine who currently have or have just raised teens said their kids just don't care about cars. Their world is not out in the open and enjoying the moment with the roar of the engine. It's in the world they created for themselves at their fingertips. If they want bland and an appliance, that's what will be built.
  • Kosmo Nope. Not ever. They are not our friends.
  • Aja8888 No, only Chinese food.