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IIHS tests minivan head restraints

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Freestar/Monterey - Good geometry, good dynamic rating, Good overall
Caravan/T&C, w/ lumbar - Acceptable geometry, acceptable dynamic rating, Acceptable overall
Odyssey - Acceptable geometry, marginal dynamic rating, Marginal overall
Caravan/T&C, w/o lumbar - Acceptable geometry, poor dynamic rating, Poor overall
CSVs - Acceptable geometry, poor dynamic rating, Poor overall
Sienna - Acceptable geometry, poor dynamic rating, Poor overall

Astro, Safari, Caravan w/ fixed restraints - Poor geometry, no test, Poor overall
MPV, Quest, Sienna w/o lumbar - Marginal geometry, no test, Poor overall

ARLINGTON, VA — Seat/head restraint combinations in the Ford Freestar and its twin Mercury Monterey earn good overall ratings. Those in some Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country models are rated acceptable, based on recent evaluations by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [see Addendum 1 (PDF)]. However, the seat/head restraints in most current minivan models are marginal or poor, indicating they wouldn't provide adequate protection from whiplash injuries for many people in rear-end collisions.

The ratings are for seat/head restraint designs available in 14 current minivan models. Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint geometry — the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance behind the back of the head of an average-size man. Seats with good or acceptable restraint geometry then are tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test simulates a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at 20 mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor overall because they cannot be positioned to protect many people.

Among the seat/head restraints that were tested dynamically, those in the Honda Odyssey are rated marginal overall. All seats in the Chevrolet Uplander (also sold as Buick Terazza, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Saturn Relay) and some in the Grand Caravan/Town & Country and Toyota Sienna are rated poor. These ratings are in addition to the good overall rating for the seats in the Freestar/Monterey and the acceptable rating for the seats in some Grand Caravan/Town & Country models. All of these seat/head restraint combinations earn overall ratings based on both geometry and dynamic test results.

Another minivan, the Kia Sedona, has been redesigned for the 2006 model year but isn't yet available. Results for the Sedona will be released early next year.

"Automakers are improving the geometry of their head restraints, compared with the last time we evaluated them," says Institute chief operating officer Adrian Lund. "Still, in this group of minivans the Fords are the only models with good dynamic performance for all of their seat designs. Many of the seat/head restraints we evaluated didn't even get to the testing stage because of marginal or poor geometry. These cannot begin to protect most people in rear-end crashes."

Some seats automatically earn poor ratings: The Institute doesn't test seats with head restraints that are rated marginal or poor for geometry because such seats cannot be positioned to protect many taller people. The seats that weren't tested in this group include all of those in the Chevrolet Astro, GMC Safari, Mazda MPV, and Nissan Quest plus some seats in the Grand Caravan and Toyota Sienna.

"It's disappointing that so many minivan seats are rated poor for rear impact protection," Lund says. "Drivers of minivans spend a lot of time on urban and suburban roads where rear-end collisions are common in stop-and-go traffic. Moms often are behind the wheel, and women are more vulnerable to whiplash injuries so they especially need good seats and head restraints."



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