Consumer Reports Raised the Safety Standard, and Some New Cars Are Failing

New cars are safer than ever before, with new technologies keeping passengers safe in a crash, or preventing them altogether. But according to Consumer Reports, when it comes to back seats, safety has stagnated. That’s why they’ve upped the standard for rear-seat safety, introducing new ways to judge the category. And already, some major new cars are flunking the test.

Back Seat of Car
Back Seat of Car | Neil Godwin/T3 Magazine/Future via Getty Images

Consumer Report’s new standard on rear-seat safety

The main area of criticism from Consumer Reports is that the front seats get far more safety features than the rear seats do, some of which are essential to passenger safety whether you’re in the front or the back. This included little things, like seatbelt reminders. Almost every new car has them for the front passengers, but for antsy kids in the back, it might be more important to remind them.

Then there are seatbelt systems, such as pretensioners and load limiters. A seatbelt pretensioner will tighten at the beginning of an accident, mitigating whiplash and holding the occupant to the seat. Likewise, a load limiter will let the seatbelt loosen so that chest impact isn’t as harsh.

Many cars come with side airbags, but only a quarter of new cars come with side-impact torso and pelvis protection for rear occupants. Then there are rear-seat headrests, which can often be removed to increase visibility for the driver. When left off, the rear passengers are at risk of head and neck injuries in an accident. The harder it is for a passenger to sit in the back without the headrest, the better the score.

Lastly, Consumer Reports also looked at child safety, specifically with booster seats. Researchers attempted to put different kinds of car seats into the back of each vehicle to determine how easier they were to install and how secure they were overall.

With all those factors in mind, some new cars weren’t ready for this pop quiz, failing to address rear seat safety as strongly as they could.

New cars with the lowest rear-seat safety scores

2022 Volkswagen Taos and 2021 Genesis G80
2022 Volkswagen Taos and 2021 Genesis G80 | Volkswagen/Genesis

Consumer Reports used the scale of Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor across six categories. Three of those categories had to do with child safety, which includes child seat fit, booster use, and rear occupant alerts. The other three categories had to do with the previously discussed rear-seat safety (headrests, seatbelt reminders, and advanced seatbelt safety).

Of the 35 2021 and 2022 model year vehicles Consumer Reports reviewed, the 2021 Genesis G80 and the 2022 Volkswagen Taos came out on the bottom. Both of them earned Poor ratings in the seatbelt reminder categories and the advanced belt systems, which likely means they didn’t have them at all. In fact, none of the cars across the Genesis lineup has rear seat pretensioners. Likewise, the Genesis G80 has Fair headrests, while the Volkswagen Taos has Good headrests.

In terms of child safety, the Taos is better than the G80, but not by much. Both cars were marked as Fair in terms of child seat fit, and the Taos was marked as Good while the G80 was Fair. And in terms of rear-passenger alerts, the Taos has a limited system that Consumer Reports rated as fair, while the G80 doesn’t have one at all. The Volkswagen Taos earned an overall rear safety score of 31 out of 100, while the G80 managed just 24.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum, a few cars exceeded expectations. And while none of the 35 cars aced these Consumer Reports tests, they came out higher than anticipated.

New cars with the highest rear-seat safety scores

2021 Toyota Sienna and 2022 Nissan Pathfinder
2021 Toyota Sienna and 2022 Nissan Pathfinder | Toyota/Nissan

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For the 2021 model year, the Toyota Sienna has the best rear-seat safety. And for 2022, it’s the Nissan Pathfinder. The two cars performed the exact same in terms of child safety, with Good scores in both booster seat use and rear occupant alerts, and Very Good scores in the child seat fit.

In terms of general rear-seat safety, however, it’s hard to pick a winner. The Toyota Sienna managed all Very Good marks in the three categories, whereas the Nissan Pathfinder had a Very Good rating for the seatbelt reminder, a Good rating for the seatbelt technology, and an Excellent rating for headrests.

What’s clear is that every car has a little work to do in order to keep the rear occupants as safe as the front ones. After all, those in the backseat tend to be younger, and more susceptible to fatalities in the event of a crash. And by raising the bar, Consumer Reports is encouraging the growth of automakers to earn perfect safety scores, and keep every passenger safe.