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Cars are safer than ever right now, but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. In updated IIHS testing, small cars are falling short. With new tests that put a dummy in the backseat, small cars are failing new safety tests across the board.

Updated IIHS safety testing standards

A frontal crash test with another vehicle with crash test dummies not wearing seat belts in Paris, France
A frontal crash test | Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

This isn’t the first time that updated IIHS crash tests caused a sea change at the top of safety rankings. Earlier this year, the testing agency upgraded side-impact tests as well. That test saw a heavier sled and higher speed expose safety issues in a number of popular models. Vehicles that had previously passed with top honors lost ranking, including those from Toyota, Honda, and Volvo.

Now, small cars are getting a similar treatment. A new IIHS overlap crash test now includes a child-sized dummy in the rear seat. And while many of these small cars still pass front-seat safety tests, the rear-seat dummy exposed safety problems with every model tested so far.

Which small cars fail backseat safety tests

2023 Toyota Corolla, which fails new safety tests for small car
The 2023 Toyota Corolla | Toyota

So far, five small cars have shown dangers to backseat occupants in the newest safety tests. These are the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, and Subaru Crosstrek.

Both the Civic and Corolla did well for driver restraints as well as head, neck, chest, and thigh injuries for rear-seat occupants. However, every model tested failed backseat passenger safety tests with the lowest possible score.

According to the testing report, the dummy slid out from beneath the seatbelt in all five vehicles. Furthermore, the lap belt slid from the hips to the abdomen, which can cause severe internal injuries in a collision.

In the three worst vehicles, things were even more dangerous. Here, the testers noted a moderate risk for head, neck, and chest injuries.

What are the three worst small cars for safety?

While Honda and Toyota continue to outperform the competition, the small cars from Kia, Nissan, and Subaru all failed their backseat safety tests. In the case of the Kia Forte and Nissan Sentra, testers gave both cars the worst score for head and neck injuries for backseat occupants. In addition, both cars earned just Marginal scores for chest injuries.

Meanwhile, the Subaru Crosstrek had the opposite problem. It rated as Marginal for head and neck injuries thanks to its longer back seats. However, it fared worse for chest protection, earning the worst possible score.

Despite issues with the seatbelts in all vehicles, the Civic and Corolla backseat safety tests noted top scores for overall injury prevention.

Back to the drawing board for small cars

As cars become safer, safety tests become more stringent to set even higher standards. For small cars, the latest IIHS rear-seat safety tests are a new hurdle to get over. Chances are, updated models will be engineered to bolster safety in this area. For now though, these updated standards show there is still a long way to go to keep backseat occupants safe.

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