Back-Seat Safety In Most Small SUVs Is Lacking, New Crash Tests Show, But Volvo XC40 Leads The Pack


Only two out of 15 small SUVs recently evaluated in a new crash test protected the rear passengers well enough to earn a good rating, the Volvo XC40 and the Ford Escape. Nine small SUVs, including the popular Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, were among the poor performers.

The ratings from the updated moderate overlap front crash test were released on Tuesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit financed by the insurance industry.

“Thanks to automakers’ improvements, drivers in most vehicles are nearly 50 percent less likely to be killed in a frontal crash today than they were 25 years ago,” David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute, said in a statement. “Our updated test is a challenge to manufacturers to bring those same benefits to the back seat. The stellar performance of the Escape and XC40 shows it’s possible.”

The recent evaluation is the first frontal crash test in the U.S. to include a rear-occupant dummy, the safety group said, which in this case represented a small woman or 12-year-old child. The new test was designed to address a growing gap in the protection provided for front and rear occupants and to encourage automakers to improve safety for passengers seated in the rear.

The Insurance Institute’s original evaluation focused on protections for the driver’s head and minimizing the risk of other types of injuries, but the new test results indicated that most of them don’t provide adequate protection for the rear passenger’s head and neck “ the most vulnerable areas of the body.”


A recent Insurance Institute assessment of real-world crashes indicated that frequently, back-seat passengers were injured more severely than front-seat occupants.

The back seat hasn’t gotten less safe, researchers said, but due to major improvements in the front seat, advances haven’t kept pace.

The top rating in the institute’s assessments is good, followed by acceptable, marginal or poor. Each vehicle received an overall rating and in ten sub categories, including safety and structure of occupant compartment, protections for preventing injuries to specific areas of the body of drivers and rear passengers, and effectiveness of restraints.

The top-selling Toyota RAV4 earned an acceptable rating, and the Audi Q3, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester were rated marginal.

In addition to the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross received a poor rating.

“Not long ago, passengers seated in the rear were substantially less likely to be killed in a frontal offset crash than the driver or front-seat passenger because the biggest factor in survival was the crumpling of the front of the occupant compartment,” the Insurance Institute noted. “Now, though, there is barely any deformation of the occupant compartment in the moderate overlap test. In addition, automakers have added airbags and advanced seat belts in the front seats but not often in the rear. As a result, in vehicles from model year 2007 onward, the risk of a fatal injury is 46 percent higher for belted occupants in the rear seat than in the front.”

In the front seat, for example, crash tensioners tighten the seat belts as soon as a crash begins so that the occupant’s body begins to slow with the vehicle, stopping him or her from flying forward, researchers said. Force limiters, which allow some of the webbing to spool out, help reduce the risk of chest injuries, the most common serious rear-seat injuries for adults.

Less than half of new vehicles have advanced restraint systems in the rear seat, the safety group said, but rear-seat occupants could benefit from advanced seat belts and airbags.

For more information, including the details about each of the SUVs assessed, click here.