Most Small Cars Fail to Protect Rear-Seat Passengers, Crash Tests Reveal

Small cars have been found to offer inadequate protection for rear-seat passengers, according to the latest crash test ratings released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The results have raised concerns, prompting the IIHS to update their moderate overlap front crash test. David Harkey, the President of IIHS, emphasized the significance of these findings, stating, “These results highlight one of the key reasons that we updated our moderate overlap front crash test. In all the small cars we tested, the rear dummy ‘submarined’ under the seat belt, causing the lap belt to ride up onto the abdomen and increasing the risk of internal injuries.”

IIHS Small Cars Testing

Small Cars Miss the “Good” Mark

None of the five small cars assessed in the IIHS tests achieved a good rating. The Honda Civic sedan and Toyota Corolla sedan received acceptable ratings, while the Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, and Subaru Crosstrek were rated poor.

The IIHS introduced the updated moderate overlap front test last year after research indicated that belted occupants in the rear of newer vehicles faced a higher risk of fatal injuries compared to those in the front. However, this higher risk is not due to the rear seat becoming less safe; rather, the front seat has become safer due to advancements in airbag technology and improved seat belts, which are not often available in the rear seats. It is worth noting that despite these developments, the back seat remains the safest place for young children, as inflating front airbags can pose a danger to them.

Rear Seat Dummy

To incentivize manufacturers to enhance rear-seat protection, the updated test involves placing a dummy in the back seat behind the driver. This dummy represents a small woman or a 12-year-old child, while the driver dummy represents an average-sized adult man. IIHS researchers also developed new metrics that prioritize injuries commonly observed in back-seat passengers.

In order for a vehicle to receive a good rating, there must not be an excessive risk of injury to the head, neck, chest, abdomen, or thigh, as recorded by the second-row dummy. During the crash, the dummy should remain properly positioned without sliding forward under the lap belt, and the head should maintain a safe distance from the front seatback and the rest of the vehicle interior. Additionally, a pressure sensor on the rear dummy’s torso is utilized to determine whether the shoulder belt is positioned too high, which can reduce the effectiveness of the restraint system. The structure of the occupant compartment must also maintain adequate survival space for the driver, and measurements taken from the driver dummy should not indicate an excessive risk of injuries.

Dangerous Submarining

While all five small cars provided satisfactory protection in the front seat, the situation differed when it came to the rear seating positions.

In each of the five vehicles, the rear dummy submarined under the seat belt, causing the lap belt to shift from the hip bones to the abdomen, thereby increasing the likelihood of internal injuries.

Furthermore, the three vehicles that received poor ratings exhibited measurements from the rear dummy indicating a moderate or high risk of head, neck, or chest injuries.

Two Models Supply Adequate Protection

Despite their acceptable ratings, the Civic and Corolla mostly delivered adequate protection in the back seat, aside from the issue of submarining by the rear dummy. In the Corolla, the rear dummy’s head also approached the front seatback, resulting in an elevated risk of head injuries.

The IIHS findings underscore the need for automakers to prioritize rear-seat safety and work towards improving protection for all occupants. With the updated crash test and comprehensive metrics developed by the IIHS, manufacturers are urged to address the critical issues identified in order to enhance the safety of small cars and provide a secure environment for rear-seat passengers.

See AlsoIIHS Finds Back Seat Passenger Safety Lacking in Most Midsize SUVs

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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