Most small SUVs fail the insurance industry’s revamped frontal crash tests

Detroit – Most small SUVs fail the insurance industry’s latest frontal crash tests but, oddly enough, they’re just as safe as ever.

That’s because the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety updated the testing so it puts more emphasis on keeping backseat passengers safe.

Only the Ford Escape and Volvo XC40 earned the highest rating of “good” in this year’s test released on Tuesday. The Toyota RAV4 was rated “passable,” while the Audi Q3, Nissan Rogue, and Subaru Forester were “marginal.”

As for the rest of the cars, it is the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, HR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-5 and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, which received the last rating “Poor”.

IIHS President David Harkey said the testing is being changed because the vehicle’s structures, air bags and seat belts made the SUV safer for front-seat passengers than those in the back. Harkey said the risk of fatal injury is now 46% higher for rear seat passengers than drivers in the front.

“Before, we were just focused on how well the driver was protected,” said Harkey. “It’s not that the car has become less safe.”

The institute has a history of altering its widely monitored tests in an effort to get automakers to make safety improvements, and Harkey says they are usually responsive to changes.

While seat belts restrain rear-seat passengers, they are vulnerable to head and neck injuries, and in many SUVs, the belts are relatively low-tech and simply tighten in the event of an accident.

Newer belts have sensors that determine that an accident is imminent, Harkey said, and they pull the occupant into an appropriate seating position before a collision occurs, slowing the occupant down with the vehicle. After impact, he said, they soften slightly to prevent the belts from rising from the pelvis into the abdomen where they can cause serious internal injuries.

Some automakers have already put more advanced belts in their rear seats, Harkey said, something that could be done without a major model update. “The industry has always been good at responding to the tests we’ve introduced,” he said. “We expect that they will do that in this case, and we expect that they will be able to do it quickly.”

Small SUVs fare poorly in the new, more rigorous side impact test

The institute used a crash dummy representing a little woman or a 12-year-old to test injuries to rear seat passengers, and Harkey says the dummy does a good job of showing the hazards to passengers of all sizes.

When the IIHS introduced the moderate overlapping frontal crash test in 1995, most vehicles were rated weak or marginal. Automakers responded with stronger structures and airbags to make front-seat occupants safer, and all 15 of the small SUV models used to get good reviews.

In the original mild overlay test, the car moves at 40 mph toward an aluminum barrier. About 40% of the vehicle’s width hits the barrier on the driver’s side.

Some of the SUVs tested have more advanced rear seat belts, Harkey said, but the timing should be set to work best in milliseconds before and after a collision. “Now they have to go back and see if they shoot at the right time?” He said.

Small SUVs are the most popular new cars sold in the U.S. so far this year, and compact and subcompact SUVs combined account for 23.4% of all new car sales, according to

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