New minivan testing highlights backseat dangers in popular brands

A new warning for consumers, as testing reveals several popular minivan models don’t make the grade when it comes to rear-seat passenger safety.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested four of the highest selling minivans from a variety of automakers, with none earning an ‘acceptable’ or ‘good’ rating.

“Many consumers choose many bands specifically to transport their families. So it’s disappointing that the automakers haven’t focused more attention on backseat safety in this vehicle class,” said Jessica Jermakian, vice president of vehicle research for the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety.

The testing focused on the Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Carnival, Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, and used a crash test dummy the size of a small woman or 12-year-old child.

In crash testing, all four minivans provided good protection in the front seat, but researchers say testing showed the second-row passengers could be vulnerable to chest, head or neck injuries due to the force and placement of their seatbelts.

According to the IIHS, for a vehicle to earn a good rating, there can’t be an excessive risk of injury to the head, neck, chest or thigh, as recorded by the second-row dummy. The dummy should remain correctly positioned during the crash without “submarining,” or sliding forward beneath the lap belt, which increases the risk of abdominal injuries

“The Honda Odyssey was the only minivan in this group to earn a poor rating. Compared with the others it had a higher risk of head and neck injury for that rear passenger,” said Jermakian. “The Sienna is the only minivan where we saw ‘submarining’ which is when the lap belt slides over the pelvis into the abdomen and can put the rear passenger at risk of abdominal injury.”

Courtesy: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Other findings of note- a side airbag on the Chrysler Pacifica did not deploy during testing and the forces on the rear dummy’s neck were substantially higher in the Carnival, increasing the chances of a head or neck injury.

“While we’re disappointed in these ratings, we expect the automakers to respond quickly and make improvements as we’ve seen when we’ve introduced other tests,” said Jermakian.

Despite all these findings, researchers say the back seat remains the safest place for children, and the ratings we mentioned don’t  apply to children secured properly in  child safety seats.

NBC 5 Responds reached out to all automakers mentioned in the testing. Here’s what we found:

Honda statement: “American Honda is a leader in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) safety ratings with ten Honda and Acura models recognized by the institute with their 2023 TOP SAFETY PICK or TOP SAFETY PICK+ ratings, including the 2023 Honda Odyssey. IIHS’ updated moderate overlap testing with new rear passenger metrics challenges models fully engineered prior to the introduction of the new test mode, as seen by the results for each of the models included in the most recent minivan evaluations. The all-new 2023 Accord, by comparison, led IIHS’ moderate overlap testing of midsize sedans, as the only of seven models tested to score GOOD in all rear passenger injury measures

Chrysler statement: No single test determines vehicle safety. We engineer our vehicles for real-world performance. We routinely consider third-party ratings and factor them into our product-development process, as appropriate. We have a long history in the minivan segment. The security and protection of our customers are critical concerns at Stellantis. Every Stellantis model meets or exceeds all applicable federal vehicle safety standards.

Kia statement:  Kia America places a priority on vehicle safety, and all Kia vehicles sold in the United States meet or exceed federal motor vehicle safety standards. Occupant protection is complex and involves a diverse range of variables, and Kia is proud of its strong safety record and integrity of its products. Kia will carefully evaluate the results of this test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as part of its commitment to continuous improvement in occupant protection.

Note: NBC 5 Responds is still awaiting response from Toyota, and will include their statement in future updates to this story.

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