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Official Mar 14th 2023 at 9:01AM

Most midsize SUVs miss the mark in IIHS rear-seat crash test

The IIHS' found that rear-seat safety isn't keeping up with the front

Many people buy SUVs as their primary family haulers, leading automakers to pack them with tech and entertainment features for back-seat passengers. But it seems more investment in rear-passenger safety will need to come next. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "most midsize SUVs offer inadequate front crash protection for passengers seated in the rear.” This is based on a new test to evaluate rear-seat crash safety.

Research showed that automakers’ safety innovations had focused too heavily on front-seat passengers. The IIHS noted that people in the back seat are 46% more likely to be killed in a crash than people in the front. This led to the organization's development of a new test.

Engineers place a child-sized dummy behind the driver’s seat and use sensors to determine if it has been subjected to forces that could cause injuries to various body parts. Testers add paint to the dummy’s head to determine if the vehicle’s head restraints protect from impact and to gauge how well the seatbelt holds passengers in place. The IIHS then ran each of the SUVs through the standard moderate overlap front crash and looked at the results.

Of the 13 SUVs tested, only four earned a “Good” score: Ford Explorer and Mustang Mach-E, Subaru Ascent and Tesla Model Y. The Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas earned “Marginal” scores, while six others picked up “Poor” marks: Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Murano.

The Wrangler’s rear lap belt moved upward during the crash, and the SUV lacks side curtain airbags in the rear, while seatbelt tension in the CX-9, Grand Cherokee, Palisade and Pilot was too high. That’s the opposite of the front-seat scores for most of the SUVs, which were generally strong, though the Wrangler’s driver’s side airbag did not deploy in testing.

The organization is just starting with this testing, so it's not part of its current ratings, but will likely appear in the future. It also recently updated its side impact test with higher speeds, greatly reducing the number of Top Safety Pick awards for 2023. At the same time, the IIHS has voiced concerns about safety issues related to electric vehicles’ extreme weight and has had to update its testing equipment to effectively crash test the heavier vehicles.