Minivans Aren't As Family Friendly As You Thought They Were

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The IIHS's latest round of crash tests finds that while front occupants are fine, those in the back are at far higher risk.

Despite being touted as the go-to vehicles for families, minivans have been found wanting when it comes to second-row safety by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It's a pity, then, that that's where you carry your most precious cargo in a minivan.

The claims have arisen after the IIHS conducted its updated moderate overlap front crash test, with poor results across all minivans tested. Included in this round of crash testing were 2023 models of the Kia Carnival, Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna - the latter of which was the only minivan to gain praise from the IIHS for its second-row seatbelt reminders. But even that didn't stop the Sienna from poorly protecting rear-seat occupants.

Across the board, the four minivans were rated "Marginal" in their chest protection of those in the back seats, which is the second lowest rating available. While thing protection was scored Good across the board, only the Sienna managed the same for head and neck protection. In this category, the Carnival was rated as Marginal, while the Honda Odyssey received the worst score possible - Poor.


"Back seat safety is important for all vehicles, but it's especially vital for those, like minivans, that customers are choosing specifically to transport their families," says IIHS President David Harkey. "It's disappointing that automakers haven't acted faster to apply the best available technology to the second row in this vehicle class."

The Sienna was the only model with technologies designed to reduce belt forces, but the dummy, which sat on its second-row seats, submarined beneath the lap belt. Meanwhile, the shoulder belt "transferred" towards the dummy's neck.

As a consolation, all the minivans scored well in front occupant protection, with only the Sienna faltering in the leg and for protection area with a score of Acceptable. The rest picked up top marks.

But, despite this, the rear-occupant protection scores meant bad overall ratings. The Sienna, Carnival, and Pacifica were rated Marginal, while the Odyssey was rated Poor - a scathing indictment on the safety of a family-centric vehicle.


"The restraint systems in all four vehicles leave the second-row occupant vulnerable to chest injuries, either because of excessive belt forces or poor belt positioning," explains IIHS Vice President of Vehicle Research Jessica Jermakian. "That's concerning because those injuries can be life-threatening."

For the Pacifica and Carnival, their belts pushed too much force on the test dummy's chest area. The dummy's neck was fine on the Sienna and Pacifica, but the chances of neck or head injury were substantially higher on the Carnival. It likewise noted that the side airbag did not deploy in the Pacifica during its crash.

Although this sounds bad for Minivans, they aren't alone in showing sub-par second-row safety. A report in August detailed the failure of midsize cars regarding rear-seat occupant safety. A July report likewise saw unsafe second-row seats on small trucks.

IIHS/YouTube IIHS/YouTube IIHS/YouTube IIHS/YouTube

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