Crash testing is not a perfect system. Over the years, the IIHS has continued to improve and, when needed, completely reformulate it to more accurately show how safe we are. We may be in another of those rework times now. New data from the IIHS suggests that backseat safety may not be as good as we thought.
How safe is it to sit in the back seat of a car?
We have plenty of data on front-seat crash-test dummies, but according to IIHS, it just released the seat results for the first front-of-the-road vehicle in the U.S. focused on rear passengers.
And the Volvo XC40 received the highest rating “Good”. The Toyota RAV4 is the only model with the second highest “Fair” rating. At the same time, the Audi Q3, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester scored second from bottom with a “marginal” score. The IIHS found that the other nine SUVs tested slipped into the agency’s lowest rating of “Poor.”
Consumer Reports was already ahead of the game
CR proudly reports that while the IIHS updates its crash-test standards, the new data goes in support of CR’s already long-running work rating the infant car rear-seat safety capabilities of infant car seats and booster seats. CR found that in cars in which the rear seats mirror safety features such as adjustable seat belt anchors and seat belt pretensioners in the front seats, the cars are generally safer.
In the front seat, crash pretensioners (pretensioners) tighten the seat belts immediately after the onset of a collision until the occupant’s body begins to decelerate with the vehicle. Then, since the taut belt prevents the occupant from flying forward, the force limiters allow some of the belt to rotate to reduce the risk of Chest injuries,” says the Institute for International Health Insurance (IIHS).
Although this data is new to US crash tests, Consumer Reports notes that these rear-seat-focused crash tests have been happening in Europe for a while.
“Manufacturers have been slower to include this technology in US-market vehicles, but these new ratings should spur huge safety improvements for rear seat passengers,” says Thomas. “Over the years, IIHS and Euro NCAP have demonstrated the significant impact that consumer crash testing programs can have in the marketplace.”
And if any of this attention to rear-seat safety seems superfluous, think again. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) reports that motor vehicle-related fatalities are at a 15-year high on American roads. Concerns about staying strapped in in the back seats are valid. Of the 23,824 passenger car occupants killed in 2020, 46 percent were unrestrained at the time of the accidents. As mentioned earlier, there is good reason to be concerned about keeping rear seat passengers buckled in and proper seat belt safety features. Remember to wear your seat belt no matter where you are in the car. It doesn’t matter.