Crash tests show automakers made strides in passenger safety

  • New crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed 10 of the 13 cars tested were graded as doing a "good" job protecting passengers.
  • "Good" is the highest mark given by the IIHS.
The 2018 Subaru Outback earns a good rating in the passenger- side small overlap front crash test.
Source: IIHS
The 2018 Subaru Outback earns a good rating in the passenger- side small overlap front crash test.

One year after a crash test raised questions about the safety provided to passengers in the front seat of small SUVs, a new set of tests paints a more encouraging picture.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted new crash tests where the brunt of the collision was absorbed by the front passenger side of mid-size cars.

The results? Ten of the 13 cars tested were graded as doing a "good" job protecting passengers, the highest mark given by the Insurance Institute. One car, the Volkswagen Jetta, was rated as "acceptable" and two models, the Volkswagen Passat and Chevrolet Malibu, were rated as providing "marginal" protection, the second lowest grade awarded by the IIHS.

"We're excited by the results," said Becky Mueller, senior research engineer for IIHS. "All of the structures we tested were greatly improved compared to the structures of small SUVs tested last year."

Mueller said she believes automakers have learned to put a greater emphasis on protecting passengers in the front seat, especially when it comes to collisions where the front passenger corner of a car hits another vehicle or object while traveling at 40 miles per hour.

Still, there are areas where the IIHS said automakers can make improvements.

For example, the airbags for five cars allowed the crash test dummy to slide too far forward so it either hit or came close to hitting the dashboard. Meanwhile, the seat belt designs for some models also allowed too much forward motion during crash tests.

Mueller said both problems can be corrected by engineers working on the design of the passenger seat airbags and seat belts.

"Overall, passengers should feel confident riding in the front seat," said Mueller. "But we don't want anyone to slip through the cracks, so there are still some improvements that can be built into these cars."