Minivans Fall Short on Rear-Seat Safety

Favored by many families for their convenience, minivans are expected to offer superior safety features, particularly in second-row seating. However, they seem to be trailing behind in meeting these expectations.

IIHS and Minivans Safety Study

A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety revealed that none of the four minivans evaluated achieved a satisfactory or good rating in the newly revised moderate overlap front crash test, which now places a stronger focus on back seat safety. The Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Carnival, and Toyota Sienna received marginal ratings, while the Honda Odyssey was rated as poor.

Except for the Toyota Sienna, all lacked seat belt reminders for the second-row seats, a feature emphasized by the IIHS earlier this year.

“Back seat safety is important for all vehicles, but it’s especially vital for those, like minivans, that customers are choosing specifically to transport their families,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “It’s disappointing that automakers haven’t acted faster to apply the best available technology to the second row in this vehicle class.”

IIHS Safety Testing

Revised Safety Testing

The revised moderate overlap front test was initiated last year by the IIHS, following findings that indicated a heightened risk of fatal injury for belted occupants in the second row of newer models. This is not because the second-row seats have become less safe, but because the front seats have seen significant safety improvements such as enhanced airbags and advanced seat belts which are often not extended to the rear seats. Nonetheless, for children, the back seat, especially when properly secured in child safety seats, remains the safest option.

In this modified test, an additional dummy is placed in the second row behind the driver to mimic the size of a small woman or a 12-year-old child, while the driver dummy represents an average adult male. New assessment criteria were also introduced by IIHS researchers, aiming to address the types of injuries most sustained by rear seat occupants.

Quest for a Good Rating

To achieve a good rating, a vehicle must exhibit minimal risk of injury to the head, neck, chest, or thigh of the second-row dummy. The dummy should stay in the correct position throughout the crash, without “submarining,” or slipping forward under the lap belt, as this raises the risk of abdominal injuries. It’s also crucial for the head to maintain a safe distance from the front seatback and other interior elements of the vehicle, and for the shoulder belt to stay in place, ensuring maximum effectiveness. A pressure sensor on the rear dummy’s torso assesses the position of the shoulder belt during the impact.

Just like in the initial test, it’s imperative for the vehicle’s occupant compartment to retain sufficient survival space for the driver, with data collected from the driver dummy indicating no elevated risk of injuries.

Second-Row Seat Safety

All four minivans performed well in providing front-seat protection. However, numerous concerns arise when it comes to the safety of the second-row seats.

“The restraining systems in all four vehicles exposed the second-row occupants to potential chest injuries, due to either excessive belt forces or improper belt positioning,” stated Jessica Jermakian, IIHS Vice President of Vehicle Research. “This is alarming as such injuries can pose serious threats to life.”

Sienna Success; Odyssey Concern

Among the four, only the marginally rated Sienna is furnished with belt pretensioners and force limiters, which are technologies devised to mitigate belt forces. However, during the test, the rear dummy submarined below the lap belt, and the shoulder belt moved off the shoulder toward the dummy’s neck.

In the other two marginally rated vehicles, the Carnival and Pacifica, the seat belt applied excessive force on the dummy’s chest. Additionally, the side curtain airbag in the Pacifica did not deploy during the test.

The forces exerted on the rear dummy’s neck were within permissible limits in the Pacifica and Sienna but were notably higher in the Carnival, escalating the likelihood of head or neck injuries.

In the poorly rated Honda Odyssey, the forces on the head and neck were even more elevated, with the crash footage showing that the rear seat belt allowed the dummy’s head to approach too closely to the front seatback, further elevating the risk of head injuries.

Minivans and Safety

The IIHS conducts regular examinations across various vehicle categories, assessing numerous safety facets and advancements. The recent evaluation focusing on minivan rear seating is the most thorough undertaken thus far. This underscores the importance of passenger safety in an effort to minimize injuries and fatalities.

See AlsoAll About Minivans!

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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