Thanks to improved airbags and advanced seat belts, front-seat passengers in most vehicles today are enjoying better safety. But the same is not true for backseat passengers.
Only one out of seven midsize cars earned a good rating in a new crash test focused on rear-seat protection from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Honda Accord alone aced the recently updated moderate overlap front crash test.
Six other cars didn’t fare as well. While the Subaru Outback scored an acceptable rating, the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry both rated marginal. The Hyundai Sonata, Kia K5, and Volkswagen Jetta all got poor ratings.
In 2022, the IIHS launched the updated moderate overlap front test after research showed that in newer vehicles the risk of a fatal injury is now higher for belted occupants in the rear than for those in front.
In order to motivate manufacturers to improve rear-seat protection, the updated test adds a dummy in the back seat behind the driver. The driver dummy is the size of an average adult man.
The rear dummy is the size of a small woman or 12-year-old child. IIHS researchers also developed new metrics that focus on the injuries most frequently seen in backseat passengers.
For a vehicle to earn a good rating, there can’t be an excessive risk of injury to the head, neck, chest, or thigh of the second-row dummy. What’s more, the dummy should remain correctly positioned during the crash without “submarining,” that is, sliding forward beneath the lap belt.
Results Suggest Better Protection Needed
Aside from the Accord, the majority of vehicle results point to a need for automakers to implement better rear-seat protection.
On the upside, the Accord provided excellent protection in the back seat. Measurements taken from the rear dummy showed no heightened risk of injuries, and the rear restraints did a solid job controlling the dummy’s motion.
However, submarining was a problem for the poor-rated K5 and Sonata, while in the Jetta the rear passenger’s head came too close to the front seat back.
In all three poor-rated cars, measurements taken from the rear dummy indicated likely injuries to the head or neck and chest and excessive belt forces. In the K5 and Sonata, the rear shoulder belt also moved off the shoulder toward the neck.
As for the Altima and Camry — both marginal-rated — the rear dummy submarined beneath the lap belt, and the shoulder belt moved off the shoulder toward the dummy’s neck. The Altima results also indicated a moderate risk of head or neck injuries for the rear passenger.
The acceptable-rated Outback fared somewhat better as the results didn’t show any elevated injury risks.
However, the dummy submarined beneath the lap belt, and its head came close to the front seat back during the crash, increasing the likelihood of abdominal and head injuries.