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One of the most important parts of a minivan is its seat belts. Minivans are for hauling multiple passengers, so how they function affects more than a single driver. That’s why the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety revised its safety rating system to focus better on seat belt reminder systems. It found only the Toyota Sienna minivan passed its testing to receive a Good rating. 

Why did the IIHS change seat belt alert criteria?

Buckle up
A Navajo road sign warning drivers to buckle up | Nik Wheeler/Corbis via Getty

The IIHS wants to enforce better seat belt reminders throughout the industry for obvious reasons. While reminder systems have been around for decades, research shows they continue to work. So the IIHS expanded its criteria to cover the volume, duration, and frequency of each reminder or beep. 

One of the criteria is to have a 30-second alert for passengers removing their seat belts while the minivan is moving. This includes both front and middle-row passengers. Only the Sienna includes middle-row passengers in its seat belt alerts.

How did all minivans rate in the IIHS study?

Seat belts
Seat belts save lives | IIHS

The minivan’s safety system must signal that a passenger is unbelted when it’s moving with both an audible and visual alert. And those alerts need enough volume to hear over the din of conversations or audio inside, and that of traffic and wind noise outside. 

Of the other three minivans, the Kia Carnival gets an Acceptable rating, the Chrysler Pacifica only mustered a Marginal rating, and the Honda Odyssey rated Poor. The Odyssey score was especially surprising as it normally scores high in other safety rating studies. 

2023 Toyota Sienna
2023 Toyota Sienna middle-row seating | Toyota

Last year, the Carnival and Odyssey both had Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ ratings from the IIHS. But, again, the discrepancy is due to the new scoring procedure for 2023. And this is the first time that these warnings factor so highly for any safety rating. 

The testing found that Pacifica’s front seat reminder volume isn’t high enough, and is also slow in warning passengers as the vehicle hits 25 mph. For the Odyssey, the Poor rating was because of the front seat belt reminders lasting only eight seconds. 

How long have seat belt safety mandates existed?

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Buckle up! | Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

So, neither of these are game changers if you’re considering purchasing any of these minivans. But it will likely kickstart automakers to incorporate the IIHS criteria into future models. After all, it seems like an easy fix for maintaining those high safety ratings, especially as they apply to minivans. 

Seat belt warnings began in 1972. At that time, only an estimated 12% to 15% of passengers used them. And seat belts themselves were only mandated by the feds four years earlier. Since that time, usage has increased to 90+%. 

Since 1975, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says almost 375,000 lives have been saved because of seat belt usage. That is more than the combined lives saved with airbags, energy-absorbing steering columns, and electronic stability control technologies.  


12 SUVs Failed New IIHS Seat Belt Reminder Tests