New Crash Tests Reveal Rear Seat Safety Challenges for Small Cars
In recent crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) on five popular small cars, three received the lowest overall rating primarily due to inadequate protection for rear-seat passengers. Surprisingly, none of the cars achieved the top rating, emphasizing the ongoing need for automakers to improve rear-seat occupant safety measures.
The Vehicles with Downgraded Ratings
Despite previously earning top ratings, all five vehicles subjected to recent IIHS testing experienced significant downgrades. The 2022-2023 Kia Forte, 2022-2023 Nissan Sentra, and 2022-2023 Subaru Crosstrek all received the lowest “Poor” overall rating. On the other hand, the 2022-2023 Honda Civic and 2023 Toyota Corolla obtained “Acceptable” ratings in the evaluations.
IIHS spokesperson Joe Young attributes the downgrades of all five vehicles to concerns regarding the rear-seat dummy. Specifically, in each vehicle, the lap belt of the rear-seat dummy tended to move upward towards the abdomen, posing a risk of abdominal or spinal injuries in real-world accidents.
The vehicles that received a Poor rating exhibited an increased likelihood of head, neck, and chest injuries based on the performance of the rear dummy. While there are additional models in this category, such as those from Mazda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen, the IIHS focused on evaluating top-selling vehicles for this assessment.
Third Phase of Vehicle Testing
This marks the third phase of vehicle testing by the IIHS, focusing on the frontal test. The initial tests on small and midsized SUVs yielded similar outcomes. The purpose of this test is to simulate collisions at 40 mph between two vehicles traveling in opposite directions but not in a head-on manner. This scenario reflects situations where a car veers across the center line of a road, for instance. In the test, alongside the dummy representing an adult male in the driver’s seat, a second-row dummy was introduced to represent either a small woman or a 12-year-old child. This adjustment allows for a more accurate representation of rear-seat passengers during the evaluation.
The IIHS intends to conduct further testing in a broader range of vehicles, including the updated Crosstrek, in the future. According to Emily Thomas, Consumer Reports’ auto safety manager, there is a high probability of improved scores as automakers redesign their vehicles to meet the new test standards. This demonstrates the potential for enhanced safety measures in upcoming vehicle models.
According to the expert, this first batch of small cars tested has the potential to achieve better scores. Lower scores in the initial round of tests are not uncommon, but manufacturers often respond effectively to the evaluations by making necessary improvements.
Improving Rear Occupant Safety
Both the IIHS and Thomas suggest that automakers can enhance rear occupant safety by improving the implementation of pretensioners and load limiters. Pretensioners tighten the seatbelt at the onset of a crash, while load limiters allow the belt to spool slightly to reduce the jerking force that could harm the occupant’s chest. While these safety features are commonly found in the front seats of most new vehicles, they are not always present in rear seating positions. While the Corolla, Civic, and Sentra include these features as standard in their rear seats, the IIHS crash test results suggest automakers might need to make specific adjustments to enhance their performance.
Seat Belts are Encouraged for Rear-Seat Passengers
It is essential for all rear occupants to prioritize wearing seat belts on every journey. A 2017 IIHS study indicated that rear-seat belt usage was reported by only 74 percent, compared to the 91 percent observed in the front seat. However, unbelted rear-seat occupants are eight times more likely to sustain injuries and twice as likely to die in a crash than their belted counterparts.
Whether children are secured in a harnessed car seat or booster seat, Thomas emphasizes that the back seat remains the safest place for them. This highlights the importance of properly restraining children in appropriate car seats when traveling.
The YouTube video below shows how the backseat passengers are poorly protected.
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Image by Marcel Langthim from Pixabay
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