Precious Cargo: Updated IIHS overlap test prompts call for better rear seat safety features from OEMs

Toronto, Ontario — As drivers, we typically reserve our vehicle’s second row for our most vulnerable passengers—our children and elders usually—and yet, as the IIHS learned through its newly updated moderate overlap front evaluation, OEMs are missing the mark when it comes to protecting rear seat passengers.

Of the 15 small SUVs tested, only the Ford Escape and Volvo XC40 protected their rear occupants well enough to earn a rating of “good” in the test. Following that, the Toyota RAV4 managed to secure an “acceptable” rating and the Audi Q3, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester all scored “marginal.”

The remaining nine vehicles; the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-5 and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, all earned a rating of “poor” in the updated test.

This recent revision to the institute’s most longstanding crash evaluation sees, for the first time, the introduction of a second, slightly smaller crash dummy (to better represent a child) in order to gauge the effectiveness of safety features for rear occupants.

“The original moderate overlap test was our first evaluation and the lynchpin of the Institute’s crash testing program,” said IIHS president David Harkey.

“Thanks to automakers’ improvements, drivers in most vehicles are nearly 50 percent less likely to be killed in a frontal crash today than they were 25 years ago. Our updated test is a challenge to manufacturers to bring those same benefits to the back seat. The stellar performance of the Escape and XC40 shows it’s possible.”

Since the 1995 introduction of the moderate overlap test, automakers have managed to reinforce the front-ends of their vehicles to better protect against crumpling, which is typically the most significant factor affecting crash survivability, but have left gaps in protections for rear seat passengers.

Where the front-row has seen substantial development in terms of airbags and overall occupant compartment structure, the back-row has largely been forgotten. Formerly regarded as the safest place in the vehicle for a passenger to sit, the risk of a fatal injury is 46 percent higher for belted occupants in the rear seat than in the front, according to the IIHS.

For example, the front seats of many modern vehicles are equipped with crash tensioners that tighten seat belts in the event of a crash, aiding the occupant in slowing with the vehicle. According to the institute, less than half of new vehicles have any sort of advanced restraint system in the back row.

The IIHS published a video to its YouTube channel to illustrate the model-specific results of its newly updated moderate overlap front evaluation.


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