Our new score takes into account those specific safety concerns that are unique to back-seat passengers. For instance, kids 12 and younger should always be in the back seat, so we pay special attention to child safety. But we also look for proven safety features that can protect older kids and adult occupants as well.
Here’s what goes into the new rear-seat safety score:
Car-seat fit: An improperly installed car seat may not fully protect your little one. That’s why we rate every vehicle we test on how easy it is to properly install child seats. We install infant, convertible, and high-back booster seats, check LATCH accessibility, and find out how many seats you can fit across the second row. And we also evaluate the vehicle owner’s manual to ensure key information is available and easy to follow.
Booster seat use: We also evaluate how easy it is to fit a booster seat, including whether it blocks access to the belt in an adjacent seat, whether it stays in place, how easy it is for kids to buckle themselves in, and whether the rear head restraint interferes with installation.
Rear occupant alert: On average, 38 children die each year in hot cars, according to data collected by the advocacy group kidsandcars.org. Many newer cars have systems to help prevent these deaths, and we started rating them when they first appeared on the market in 2016. Some systems simply remind drivers that a rear door has been opened prior to, or during a trip, while others can actually sense the presence of someone in the rear seat when the car is locked.
Rear belt minders: Nearly all new cars will remind front-seat occupants to buckle up, but only some provide that same warning and show exactly which seats have unbuckled passengers to encourage rear belt use. We give the most points to systems that don’t shut off until a belt is buckled, and that start to chime if a passenger unbuckles during a trip.
Advanced rear restraints: Many recent safety advances designed to protect those up front aren’t yet available in the rear seat. As a result, belted rear passengers may be at a higher risk of fatal injury in a crash than belted front passengers, especially if they are over age 55. We give points to cars that have rear-seat-belt pretensioners, which pull the seat belt tighter at the beginning of a crash, and load-limiters, which let the seat belt spool out a little bit of slack to reduce the force the belt applies to the occupant’s chest. Both systems are proven to reduce injuries and save lives for front passengers. People are more likely to wear a belt if it’s comfortable, so we also give points for belts with height-adjustable upper anchors.
We also award points to vehicles with airbags that offer side-impact torso and pelvis protection to rear occupants. Today, these technologies only exist on about a quarter of new vehicles. Looking to the future, our ratings will also include point additions for airbags designed for frontal impacts or that protect rear occupants seated on the side of the vehicle opposite of where it is hit—a feature that is only currently available for front-seat passengers.
Rear head restraints: Head restraints prevent whiplash and other neck injuries during rear-end collisions. Some rear head restraints can be stowed away when the rear seat is not in use to improve driver visibility or fold a seat, but rear passengers who leave their head restraints stowed are at an increased risk of injury. So we give points to vehicles that make it more difficult to sit in a rear seat without an appropriate head restraint. Federal safety standards dictate a minimum height requirement for the outboard rear seats, but many rear center seats either don’t have a head restraint, or have a head restraint that is too low. So we also give points to cars with center-seat head restraints that also meet the minimum height requirement, thereby increasing protection for center-seat passengers.