Are Passengers in the Third Row of a Car Safe in a Rear Crash?

View of the the rear of a Kia Telluride driving Photo: Kia

Three-row SUVs have become a popular choice for families in need of extra room, but are passengers in the third row at a high risk of injury in a rear-end collision?

“There’s not a lot of real-world crash data for third-row seating,” says Emily Thomas, Consumer Reports’ auto safety engineer. “The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is coming out with testing where they’re putting crash-test dummies in the rear seat and looking at how they perform. However, this new testing is focused on frontal impact, not rear impact.”

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There are things you can do to make sure you are safe if you are sitting in the third row.

If you’re putting kids in the third row, make sure that they are in the correct car seat for their age, height, and weight; that it is securely installed; and that your child is properly harnessed, Thomas says. (Find out how to avoid common car-seat installation mistakes.)

If an older child or adult is in the third row, make sure they are always wearing their seat belt and have proper belt fit (shoulder belt centered across the collarbone and chest, and lap belt low across the hips). Also make sure their head restraints have been properly fitted. 

“You want to make sure the top of the head restraint reaches at least the top of their ears—preferably the top of the passenger’s head—but at least the top of their ears,” Thomas says. “And make sure the head restraint is as close to the back of the head as possible.”