Study Finds Small Cars Fail to Protect Rear Passengers in Head-On Crashes, Raising Safety Concerns

May 17, 2023 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff | News & Media , Tips & Information

Study Finds Small Cars Fail to Protect Rear Passengers in Head-On Crashes, Raising Safety Concerns

Rear passengers in small cars beware! You may not be protected in the back seat in the event of a head on crash.

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that compact cars don’t protect rear occupants well in front-crash tests. In all the small cars tested by the institute, the rear dummy “submarined” under the seat belt, causing the lap belt to ride up onto the abdomen and increasing the risk of internal injuries.

Cars tested included the 2023 Honda Civic and 2023 Toyota Corolla sedans, which earned “acceptable” ratings, and the 2023 Kia Forte, 2023 Nissan Sentra, and 2023 Subaru Crosstrek, which rated “poor.” The Forte, Sentra, and Crosstrek showed moderate or high risk of head, neck, and chest injuries to the dummies. All five small cars tested provided good protection to the driver.

It’s not just small cars that failed to meet the criteria for the new moderate front overlap test. The majority of three-row SUVs and small crossovers tested received “poor” ratings as well.

“As the demand for compact and fuel-efficient cars continues to rise, it is imperative that manufacturers prioritize the safety of all occupants, not just those in the front,” said Matt Clark, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Clark. “The findings serve as a wake-up call for consumers to prioritize safety when considering their vehicle choices.”

The moderate front-overlap test simulates a head-on collision of two vehicles of similar weight traveling at just under 40 mph. The new test, revamped last year, evaluates passenger protection in a front crash to rear passengers, and uses a dummy in the driver seat sized like the average adult male and another dummy sized like a small woman or 12-year-old child positioned in the seat behind the driver, where protection has lagged recently, according to IIHS. Says the institute:

“Historically, rear-seat occupants were cushioned from front crashes by the front seats and the front crumple zone. Since model year 2007 onward, however, the IIHS found that fatal injury is 46% higher for belted occupants in the rear seat than those in the front seat. The rear seat hasn’t become any more unsafe, but safety advances to front-seat occupants have grown due to airbags, restraint technologies, and other areas of focus that the IIHS wants to see applied to the rear seats. The IIHS says the back seats remain the safest for young children who are more likely to be injured than protected by an airbag when riding in the front passenger seat.”

The institute is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from motor vehicle crashes through research and evaluation and through education of consumers, policymakers and safety professionals. It’s “Top Safety Pick+” designation has become the standard-bearer for automotive safety.

A 2022 study last year by the institute also found that side-impact crashes are especially deadly for smaller vehicles. Small sedans and hatchbacks struggled to achieve a good rating.

Motor Trend listed the following six small cars as the safest for 2023:

  • 2023 Acura Integra
  • 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EV
  • 2023 Honda Civic
  • 2023 Mazda 3
  • 2023 Toyota Corolla
  • 2023 Mercedes-Benz C-Class


If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at