The Mustang Mach-E, Model Y earns a good rating in the IIHS rear seat safety test

Zoom in / The Tesla Model Y earned a good score in the IIHS rear-seat crash test.


Only four of 13 midsize SUVs earned good ratings when it came to protecting rear passengers in a crash, according to new crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Of those 13, two were battery electric vehicles—the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Tesla Model Y—and both scored well, as did the Ford Explorer and Subaru Ascent.

The IIHS has been testing cars at its Vehicle Research Center in Virginia since the early 1990s after noticing that most frontal crashes were offset, something the federal government’s crash tests didn’t take into account. Since then, the agency has added several other crash tests that automakers are willing to pass to earn the coveted “Top Safety Pick” rating.

The IIHS updated the moderate-overlap crash test in 2022 after becoming frustrated that the front-seat safety gains noted by the industry were not shared with those sitting in the back of a car.

In fact, the only federal crash tests that involve a test dummy sitting in the back seat are the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards side barrier crash test and the closely related New Car Assessment Program side crash, despite the fact that according to The National Service Road Safety, nearly 60 percent of crashes in 2020 were frontal crashes.

A closer look at how the Tesla Model Y protected its rear passenger during the crash.
Zoom in / A closer look at how the Tesla Model Y protected the rear seat passenger during the crash.


The IIHS’ new moderate-overlap test now incorporates a Hybrid III 5th percentile dummy that sits in the second row behind the driver to simulate a small woman or a 12-year-old child. The IIHS says that to earn a good rating, the second-row dummy must not record excessive injuries to the head, neck, chest, abdomen or thighs. Dummies have grease paint on their heads to show whether or not the head has hit the inside of the vehicle, and the seat belt must not allow the dummy to “submerge” underneath or cause abdominal injuries. And protecting rear seat passengers cannot come at the expense of driver safety.

“Nilizing rear seat safety weaknesses is an opportunity to make big gains in a short period of time, as solutions that have already been proven to work in the front can be successfully adapted for the rear,” said Marcy Edwards, Senior Research Engineer of the IIHS. who led the development of the updated test. “The four good scores in this round of testing show that some automakers are already doing that.”

The Ascent, Explorer, Model Y, and Mustang Mach-E each held the rear passenger’s dummy pelvis in place during the crash, and the side curtain airbags did their job. The IIHS noted a slight risk of head injuries in the Ascent and Explorer and said that in those SUVs and the Model Y, “the rear dummy’s head moved closer to the front seat back, which increases the risk of head injuries.”

Which cars didn’t do so well?

The Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas scored borderline scores for rear seat protection. The IIHS says there was a small risk of head or neck injuries in the Highlander and Atlas and a more significant risk of those injuries in the Traverse. The seat belt tension was high enough in the Atlas and Traverse to pose a risk of chest injuries, and the Highlander’s seat belt moved from the dummy’s pelvis to his abdomen.

Six of the 13 SUVs tested failed to score well at all, earning poor ratings from the IIHS. These were the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler 4-door, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Murano. Some of those vehicles—the CX-9, Grand Cherokee, Murano, Palisade and Pilot—recorded a high risk of head or neck injuries to the rear passenger. Rear seat belt tension contributed to a high risk of chest injuries in the Grand Cherokee, and the rear dummy’s head ended up between the window and the side curtain airbag as it bounced from the initial impact.

The Jeep Wrangler may not be the best vehicle choice if you regularly carry a rear passenger.
Zoom in / The Jeep Wrangler may not be the best vehicle choice if you regularly carry a rear passenger.


The Jeep Wrangler presented a significant risk of head and neck injuries to the rear passenger, and during the crash test, the rear seat belt moved from the dummy’s pelvis to his abdomen. The Wrangler also lacks a side curtain airbag for rear passengers.

The IIHS says crash test data showed all 13 SUVs protected the driver, although the Atlas crash test showed a significant risk of injury to the driver’s right leg, the Traverse crash saw the driver’s dummy’s head hit the steering wheel through of the airbag. and the Wrangler’s driver’s side airbag did not deploy.

“All of these vehicles provide excellent protection for the driver,” said IIHS President David Harkey, “but few extend that level of safety to the back seat.”

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