In the new seat belt reminder ratings for SUVs, only two are from Subarus

In the first round of testing of seatbelt reminder systems in 26 small and midsize SUVs, only two earned the top ratings—the Ascendant and Forester, both of which are Subarus. Nineteen models evaluated received a marginal or poor rating.

Since nearly half of the drivers and front-seat passengers who died in crashes in 2019 were unrelated, buckling up their seat belts could save up to 1,500 lives a year, and more ongoing alerts could be a way to help do that. .

Those are the results of a new testing program announced last month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit funded by the insurance industry.

“Everyone now knows that seat belts save lives when they are used,” David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute, said in a statement, noting that most Americans use seat belts, especially in the front seat, but the small number of deaths does not translate into many deaths.

Too often, people simply forget to fasten their seat belt.

“Our research shows that effective seat-belt reminders can also save lives by making those who are not actively using their belts buckle up,” Harkey added. “These new assessments are designed to drive manufacturers to realize this potential.”

The safety group said the goal of the assessments is to encourage manufacturers to improve seat belt reminders to go beyond federal requirements by adopting more effective and consistent standards.

The seat belt reminder systems in each of the 26 SUVs tested were rated as good, acceptable, marginal or poor, based on the size, duration and timing of audio alerts, as well as visual indicators and the presence of systems in both the front and rear seats.

Only two Subaru models, the Ascent and the Forester, received a good rating. Five other cars, Hyundai Palisade, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Murano, Nissan Pathfinder and Nissan Rogue, received acceptable ratings.

Seven other marginal models were rated: Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Jeep Wrangler, Mazda CX-5, Mazda CX-9, Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Highlander.

Twelve has a poor rating: Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Escape, Ford Explorer, Honda CR-V, Honda HR-V, Honda Pilot, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Volkswagen Atlas and Volvo XC40.

Typical criteria that caused ratings to drop include: audio alerts that did not start soon enough or were not loud enough to be heard due to background noise and absence of seat belt reminders for the second row.

Previous research by the Insurance Institute found that more noticeable and persistent alerts were more effective at getting drivers to wear a seat belt than minimal reminders and could increase belt usage by up to 34%.

“The gold standard is an alert that is impossible to ignore,” said Sean O’Malley, senior testing coordinator at the Insurance Institute, who conducted the assessments, in a statement.

The only cars with the highest good rating, the Ascent and Forester, provided audible alerts that the human ear perceives as four times louder than ambient vehicle noise that doesn’t end until the belt is loosened.

The safety group said some simple software tweaks could likely improve many vehicles.

“Most of these issues do not require new hardware,” O’Malley added. “Even among vehicles that get poor ratings, it is possible that simply extending the duration of the audible alert will solve the problem.”

For more information on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s test program and specific SUV ratings, click here.

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