Home » IIHS’s Signature ‘Moderate Overlap’ Crash Now Includes A Rear Passenger. Watch As Lots Of Cars Fail

IIHS’s Signature ‘Moderate Overlap’ Crash Now Includes A Rear Passenger. Watch As Lots Of Cars Fail

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IIHS’s “Small Overlap Front Test” is getting all the press these days, but before that 25 percent frontal-area crash test, it was the 40 percent frontal-area “Moderate Overlap Front Fest” that really helped the institute build a name for itself. Now, after nearly 30 years, that crash test is adding a rear passenger. And this is making it very difficult for some vehicles to score the “good” rating they scored on the test before the update. Let’s have a look at which cars do well with the new rear passenger, and which struggle.

IIHS’s moderate overlap crash test, formerly called the “frontal offset test,” has been around since 1995. It’s stricter than the government’s frontal crash test in that, not only is it conducted at a speed 5 mph faster, but instead of the entire width of the front end hitting a rigid barrier, only 40 percent of it makes contact — mimicking amore likely real-world scenario. Back when IIHS’s signature test debuted, “the majority of vehicles were rated poor or marginal,” IIHS writes on its website, which later mentions that “Today, all vehicles earn good ratings in that original evaluation.”

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The test, one the industry worst-case standard crash test, has finally changed after all these years. From IIHS:

In the original version of the test, only one dummy — a Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man and positioned in the driver seat — was used.

In 2022, we updated the test to address lagging protection for rear occupants. Now, a second, smaller Hybrid III dummy has been added. The second dummy, whose size represents a small woman or an average 12-year-old, is positioned in the second-row seat behind the driver. The updated evaluation incorporates new metrics that focus on the injuries most frequently seen in rear-seat occupants.

If you think this likely isn’t a big deal, think again. IIHS just sent out a press release describing the performance of 13 mid-size SUVs in the new test. It didn’t go well. “All these vehicles provide excellent protection for the driver…but only a handful extend that level of safety to the back seat,” said IIHS President David Harkey in the press release. That handful of “good”-rated vehicles includes: Ford Explorer, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Subaru Ascent and Tesla Model Y.

Others, like the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mazda CX-9, and Nissan Murano got rocked by the new test:

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This is a huge deal. Look at the vehicle’s scores on the moderate overlap test before the update, and you’ll see they did great, scoring “good” overall ratings. But a poor rear passenger rating brings the overall rating to “poor.”

Here are some videos of the SUVs undergoing the updated crash test. Here’s the marginally-rated VW Atlas:

Here’s the poorly-rated Jeep Wrangler:

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Here’s the poorly-rated Honda Pilot:

And here’s the “good”-rated Tesla Model Y, Ford Explorer, and Ford Mustang Mach-E:

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IIHS describes in technical terms why certain vehicles did poorly and some did well:

By most metrics, the four good-rated vehicles provide solid protection for rear passengers. The seat belt remained properly positioned on the pelvis, the side curtain airbag performed correctly, and there was no excessive force on the dummy’s chest. Measurements taken from the rear dummy indicated a slight risk of head or neck injuries for the Ascent and Explorer, however. In those two vehicles and in the Model Y, the rear dummy’s head approached the front seatback, which increases the risk of head injuries.

Measurements indicated a similar slight risk of head or neck injuries for the rear passenger in the marginal-rated Atlas and Highlander and more significant risk of such injuries in the Traverse. The seat belt tension was high in the Atlas and Traverse, increasing the risk of chest injuries. In the Atlas, the rear dummy’s head came close to contacting the front seatback. In the Highlander, the rear dummy’s seat belt moved from the ideal position on the pelvis onto the abdomen, raising the risk of abdominal injuries.

In the poor-rated vehicles, measurements taken from the rear dummy indicated a high risk of head or neck injuries to the rear passenger in the CX-9, Grand Cherokee, Murano, Palisade and Pilot and a significant risk of head or neck injuries in the Wrangler.

The Wrangler lacks a side curtain airbag in the rear. The lap belt also moved from the ideal position on the pelvis onto the abdomen during the test. The rear seat belt tension was high in the CX-9, Grand Cherokee, Palisade and Pilot. That contributed to high chest injury values for the rear dummy in the Grand Cherokee. The head of the rear passenger dummy came close to hitting the front seatback in the Murano. In the Grand Cherokee, the rear dummy’s head ended up between the window and the airbag as it rebounded from the initial impact, increasing the risk of injury from the hard surfaces of the vehicle interior or objects outside the vehicle.

It’s worth mentioning that IIHS did conduct side crash tests that evaluated rear passengers. In fact, in 2021, that side crash test became harder, just like this frontal one just did in 2022. From IIHS:

In 2021, IIHS revamped its test with a more severe crash and a more realistic striking barrier. The new barrier is closer to the weight of today’s SUVs, and the damage pattern it creates mimics the damage a striking SUV would cause more accurately than the old barrier. It is closer to the ground and shorter than the original IIHS barrier but still higher than the NHTSA barrier.

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This change also dropped a number of scores from the best rating of “good” to “poor.” Check out the Camry, Altima, and Malibu:

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If you’re curious, here are the crash test videos for those three cars:

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Just look at the stains on these otherwise-flawless report cards.

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Automotive crash tests will become ever more stringent as time goes on, and while I think we should be smart about trying to achieve “Vision Zero” as some authorities call the goal of zero highway traffic fatalities, I will say that frontal crash tests considering rear passenger safety just seem like no-brainers. It’s about damn time.

Images: IIHS

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Jake Robb
Jake Robb
1 year ago

Also: can we please have a car’s ability to change direction quickly (i.e. to avoid an accident) be considered a safety criterion? Cars keep getting bigger and heavier, and that’s a big part of why we keep having to make the test rams bigger and heavier — to keep the tests (somewhat) realistic. But this is total BS: a heavier car is more dangerous to everyone but its occupants. Crash safety has become a weirdly backwards arms race to make the biggest and heaviest car. It performs better in the tests and protects its own occupants, but everyone outside that car is worse off. (Not to mention the worse driving experience, lower fuel economy, and increased cost!)

I’m not saying everything needs to be a carbon fiber sports car (although I wouldn’t mind that!), but some lightness would go a really long way.

Jake Robb
Jake Robb
1 year ago

“Vision zero” is an amazing name for the effort that is behind the steady growth of blind spots in all modern cars. ????

Aaron Crutchfield
Aaron Crutchfield
1 year ago

I’d like to also see the IIHS use the side-impact cart to do rear-end crash testing. Those are pretty common in the real world.

CrashDoctor
CrashDoctor
1 year ago

See, this is the thing with the IIHS. They aren’t a government agency. They have no power to say “your vehicle must meet standards 1 through 2345345.” Instead, they essentially operate by shaming vehicle manufacturers into making something that doesn’t kill you.
Don’t get me wrong, rear passengers deserve to live as well.
But the IIHS in its current form becomes obsolete once most every vehicle meets the standards that they’ve created. So how do you a) prevent every car from being a “Top Safety Pick +”, and b) keep your institute relevant? Change your yardstick. Raise the pole-vault bar. Keep the bunny running faster than the dogs. Since the IIHS is the pre-eminent testing institute in North America, the manufacturers will keep designing cars to beat their tests.
Take the small overlap test. You’ll notice that in every video they’re slamming the driver’s side into the barrier, right? Well then, reinforcing the driver’s side is in order. A quick google search of “passenger side overlap test” shows that when the IIHS did this for fun a few years ago they suddenly had a reason to call all vehicles unsafe again, because the passenger side wasn’t getting the reinforcements. You may have noticed the same if you’ve ever looked at the rebar behind the front bumper of a surprising number of vehicles (circa 2010 Mercedes sedans are a top offender). There are extra pieces tacked on to the driver side (to pass the test they knew the vehicle would go through) but not on the passenger side (because that would cost twice as much as just the driver side, and nobody is testing if your passenger lives anyways).
So we know that manufacturer’s are designing to pass the tests, and cutting costs on un-tested safety items. This is where I’m conflicted, because the tests are realistic. It turns out that a lot of people actually have rear seat passengers who they want to keep alive. Similarly, the changes to the side-impact test that were mentioned in the article are realistic. If you get T-boned on your commute today, it’s most likely to be an SUV or a truck that does it because that’s what’s on the road. But what’s the solution? Make all the sedans that failed the side test taller, with higher rocker panels and beefier B-pillars? That just pushes your sedans towards becoming a crossover, and puts more large, sedan-crushing SUVs and trucks on the road.
Of course, safety in the highway environment is an ever-changing goal to meet, but what is the end game? Testing vehicles with ever-higher standards until the Honda Civic is just a re-badged Oshkosh LTV?

Bucko
Bucko
1 year ago
Reply to  CrashDoctor

I guess I don’t see the one-side crash reinforcement as strictly cost. Crash structures add weight as well. In my world, my car has a solo driver 95% of the time. I actually have rear seats removed from two of my vehicles to save weight and add cargo capacity, so the rear seat passenger stuff is immaterial to me. Most of the head-on crashes are just that; since we live on a continent where we drive on the proper side of the road, I see little reason to spend money and steel trying to protect the right side of the car as much as the left side.

GhosnInABox
GhosnInABox
1 year ago
Reply to  CrashDoctor

The funny thing is that we almost had this problem beat until automakers started exploiting EPA’s “light truck” loophole to what should be a criminal degree. Mandating a maximum wheelbase, curb weight and speed of a vehicle would make a lot of these tests obsolete.

Harris K Telemacher
Harris K Telemacher
1 year ago

This won’t be a problem after Taco Bell wins the franchise wars and we switch over to the three seashells. Securefoam will save us.

GhosnInABox
GhosnInABox
1 year ago

I’m still rooting for Pizza Hut.

Trenton Abernathy
Trenton Abernathy
1 year ago

Is it just me, or is the Jeep Wrangler/Gladiator the Mullet of automobiles. The front is neat and tidy but everything in the rear is a mess.

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 year ago

Just wanna point out the Crown Vic mesh wheels on the OG sled.

Old Busted Hotness
Old Busted Hotness
1 year ago

Moving the goalpost to play up fear.

If people were really concerned about safety, they’d learn to fucking drive. Relying on explosives and safety cages to bail you out after you’ve crashed isn’t nearly as effective as not crashing in the first place. It’s not hard; pay attention.

VanGuy
VanGuy
1 year ago

You can be the smartest/safest person on the road, but that won’t stop you from getting hit sooner or later.

I’ve been driving for 10 years now and have yet to get in an accident, but statistically, I know it will happen someday. But I’m fairly confident my 2012 Prius v will keep me safe, depending on the circumstances.

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
1 year ago

I wonder what the real statistics are for both injury and death for rear seat passengers? Actual data, not industry support group testing results.

Yes safety for all passengers should be important. But where are we starting from? It has always been assumed (from us old folk) that the back seat is safer than the front seat. When belted in. How many in the back dont wear their belts?

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
1 year ago
Reply to  Gary Lynch

Addendum…. Air bags in the back of the front seats, for rear seat passengers, are coming. Will be the only way to get the highest rating.

Utherjorge
Utherjorge
1 year ago
Reply to  Gary Lynch

This is a really good reply/idea.

Dennis Frederickson
Dennis Frederickson
1 year ago

Ah, good, the intrepid automotive engineer is finally back in the saddle after countless diversions.

Ian McClure
Ian McClure
1 year ago

Given how often people buy these SUVs “to protect their kids”, it just goes to show how little thought has actually been put into passenger safety by both consumers and manufacturers.

GhosnInABox
GhosnInABox
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian McClure

I’m assuming driveway deaths have skyrocketed with terrible irony.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 year ago

As much as I think we’ve reached far enough on crash safety to the point that the costs for marginal gains are too high, it seems like a lot of these could be improved simply by more careful seat belt anchor placement and tensioner designs. What I’d prefer to see from them going forward is to use their rating system to reflect the active everyday things, not penalizing for lack of obtrusive “safety” nannies that either nag their way to disablement and make for an extended start procedure that rivals an interwar radial aircraft or gives lazy drivers a greater sense of complacency. It wasn’t until recently that they started factoring headlights and they apparently refuse to condemn the use of touchscreens to operate common driving functions and I haven’t seen them come out against “self-driving” systems, either. If they started giving poor ratings for HVAC or wiper controls only accessible via TS, that BS would go away quickly.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 year ago

Dang, I made a moderately eloquent paragraph decrying the cost and bloat of safety features on cars increasingly out of the reach of a majority of the population, something, something IIHs, but it didn’t post.

WalmartTech
WalmartTech
1 year ago

And this organization is the EXACT reason why modern cars are so bloated and expensive; they are not going to stop until we are all driving in the automotive equivalent of an autonomously driven Bradley IFV!

90sBuicksAreUnderrated
90sBuicksAreUnderrated
1 year ago

Eh, I question how much it will impact buyer behavior. Cars in general are safer than they’ve ever been, and quite honestly, we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns for a lot of safety tech. I’m all for them making updates to address these concerns but wouldn’t hesitate to buy some of the “problem vehicles” on this list. Though I do drive a TJ Wrangler and late 90’s Buick Riviera as my fun cars without concern, so I may not be a fair representation of the buying public lol.

Healpop
Healpop
1 year ago

It may not impact decisions for a lot of vehicles, but 3-row SUVs that are primarily bought to shuttle kids around in? I’d wager those buyers care about rear passenger safety quite a bit.

VanGuy
VanGuy
1 year ago
Reply to  Healpop

Someone I know with several young kids seriously considered getting a Ford Transit passenger van for all the space, but couldn’t overlook the safety angle and ended up settling on a Chrysler Pacifica.

I spent some of my youth in the back rows of our family’s 8-passenger Ford Econoline. The fact that those things didn’t even have neck/headrests for the rear passengers is terrifying in retrospect. Maybe that’s not important for a frontal impact (I wouldn’t know), but it sure as hell would seem to be important for getting rear-ended.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago

It really drives things home the way those dummies are equipped to smear dummy brains all over the curtain airbags.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
1 year ago

At the risk of sounding contrarian and anti-progress, it’s important to note that cars are designed to pass certain standards in order to be sold in this country. And it also needs to be said that any Autopian reader — and, for that matter, most trained chimpanzees — could devise tests that said cars would fail. It’s a ways South of rocket science. Moreover, a car “failing” a test it was not designed (or required) to pass is not necessarily worthy of criticism.

Having said that, I’m surprised more attention hasn’t been paid to rear-seat safety up to now. It clearly should be a focus.

As far as I’m concerned, the IIHS can ram every U.S.-market new car with a four-ton Hummer EV or fire a belt of .50-cal. ammunition at it and draw whatever conclusions it wants. But heir tests should all come with a clear warning that they are judging by their own standards.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

My car isn’t rated for .50cal testing, but IIHS says it fails. Now the OEM is going to include a .50cal to shot the other .50cal shooter first

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
1 year ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

So carmakers should only build to the test?

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

“but instead of the entire width of the front end hitting a rigid barrier, only 40 percent of it makes contact”

Some people are really opposed to full-frontal.

JurassicComanche25
JurassicComanche25
1 year ago

Lets play a game: 4000 lb sled riding on American racing wheels, crashing into a family sedan.

IIHS safety tester or a guy leaving Cars & Coffee?

BassAckwardsRacing
BassAckwardsRacing
1 year ago

Nice Torque Thrusts on the side test barrier vehicle.

Live2ski
Live2ski
1 year ago

I like how the Honda Pilot back seat passenger is waving to the camera :p

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Annual per capita deaths had been on general downward trend until 2015, when that trend reversed and generally moved upward since. Even in 2020 when during the pandemic vehicle mile travelled fell to their lowest total in decades , deaths increased. Curious as to what’s driving this trend as cars seem to be getting safer. Is it it the amount of older, riskier cars on the road or are car occupancy numbers rising?

90sBuicksAreUnderrated
90sBuicksAreUnderrated
1 year ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

It’s gotta be distracted driving, whether it’s cell phones or all the other fancy tech in the cars.

Nathan Finch
Nathan Finch
1 year ago

Fancy tech like trying to get the climate control system to do what you want through a submenu on a touch screen with no tactile feedback.

Clark B
Clark B
1 year ago

I had to get a louder than factory horn to avoid getting run over in my lowered Sportwagen. People don’t see me when they merge or change lanes and when I honk, they can’t hear me because they’re in an isolation chamber on wheels, on their phone, or…well some people just suck at driving even when they direct their full attention to it. I live in southern Indiana, and there are so many lifted trucks around here. They still can’t see me, but they will definitely hear me now.

Space
Space
1 year ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Phones.

Another Engineer
Another Engineer
1 year ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

The increase in fatalities is primarily those outside the vehicle, namely pedestrians. There are numerous factors, but larger vehicles, lack of facilities, too-fast urban streets, meager enforcement, and likely most significantly, a lack of safety culture and respect of things like speed limits and crosswalks are driving this. In my informed view, the pandemic increases in fatalities show that congestion (and its lowered speeds) decreases severe crashes. Distraction (phone or infotainment) is also likely a contributing factor, but is vanishingly hard to put numbers too. – your friendly traffic safety engineer

Cody
Cody
1 year ago

Your local multi-modal transportation planner here to say, yeah, a lot of this. Most roads are built really well are moving cars through them quickly and safely (for motorists). It is just that doing so is often at odds with moving a lot of people around safely and comfortably outside of cars.

I enjoy my hobby cars, but I work hard to minimize my driving within the city and walk, bike, or take the bus. Its a better way to get around a city and saves wear and tear on cars so I only use them for things they’re actually good at.

Cliffs: slow down when you drive, drive less when you can, stop for pedestrians, give space to cyclists, and remember that pedestrians have the right of way a lot more often than you (or they!) may realize.

Cpt. Slow
Cpt. Slow
1 year ago

The tests get more stringent, the beltlines get higher and pillars get thicker. Eventually, we’ll all be driving around in windowless boxes hoping that our periscopes don’t snap off or our camera-computer doesn’t crash before we do.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago
Reply to  Cpt. Slow

IIHS won’t be truly happy until all cars are armored blast resistant personnel carrier hulls with LCD screens simulating windows

R.J.
R.J.
1 year ago
Reply to  Cpt. Slow

^This. I have never bought a car based on safety ratings.

VanGuy
VanGuy
1 year ago
Reply to  R.J.

I mean, they can still factor in, right? Just because they have to design for the tests, doesn’t mean the tests are invalid. What would be wrong with the ratings, statistically, if they replicate common types of accidents?

I wouldn’t use safety ratings as the most important factor at all, but I’d at least use them to eliminate a potential choice if it blatantly “failed” most of the tests.

Ffoc01
Ffoc01
1 year ago
Reply to  Cpt. Slow

Judging by the metrics used on these tests, I don’t think we’re talking about structural issues here. Everything here seems to be more a result of poor restraint. I think, if anything, you’ll see renewed testing on rear seatbelt systems and possibly wider adoption of systems like Ford’s inflatable rear seat belts (Which, for some reason, weren’t on the tested Explorer).

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
1 year ago

I’d like one of those deep dive articles on how they design the crash structure for side impacts. You need it to be able to absorb the force of the crash, but you would also want minimal intrusion into the cabin. Seems like a difficult task.

Clark B
Clark B
1 year ago

I would love that too! I remember the Volvo dealership around here used to have a stripped down XC90 with all the crash protection and reinforcements painted different colors so you could see how it worked together. I guess that was probably 20 years ago, and 10 year old me thought it was the coolest thing. 30 year old me still thinks it’s pretty damn cool.

Sklooner
Sklooner
1 year ago

It’s almost as if they designed the vehicles for the test they were going to face

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
1 year ago
Reply to  Sklooner

Certainly true, but it also means that the vehicles are considerably safer under off-test conditions than they would have been had they not been designed to face any test at all

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
1 year ago
Reply to  Sklooner

Something something, school system working as designed, former students acing tests, something something.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 year ago
Reply to  Sklooner

I see no problem with intentionally designing cars to pass safety tests, as long as these tests accurately assess for the potential of injury and death in common crashes. “Teaching to the test” is only a problem when the test is poorly designed or assessing something irrelevant.

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