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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released its annual list of the safest cars to drive. Despite tougher criteria, the 2019 list of 30 is twice as big as last year, when only 15 vehicles initially qualified for a Top Safety Pick Plus designation.
“What that’s telling us is that the automakers really are making improvements in the structure of their vehicles, particularly as it relates to protecting the passenger,” IIHS president David Harkey told CR.
Subaru has the most vehicles on the list, with six cars and SUVs. Korean automakers Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis—which share many designs and safety features but operate as three different brands—together have 12 vehicles.
In addition to the 30 highest rated vehicles, 27 additional vehicles were recognized as Top Safety Picks, which means they had nearly all the same Good scores as the top 30, with the exception of a lower Acceptable score on the passenger-side small overlap front crash test and/or on the headlight test.
Which Vehicles Earn a Top Safety Pick Plus Award?
To get a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from IIHS, a vehicle has to earn a Good rating in the agency’s small overlap front crash tests (both driver and passenger), moderate overlap front crash test, side crash test, roof strength test, and head restraint crash tests for both the driver and passenger side. They also have to get a Good headlight rating and get an Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention. This was the first year vehicles had to earn a Good rating on the agency’s new passenger-side small overlap front crash test—previously, vehicles had to earn at least an Acceptable rating.
The 40-mph passenger-side small overlap test mimics a crash where the front corner of the vehicle collides with a tree, telephone pole, or the front corner of another vehicle. CR now factors this crash test into how our experts calculate a vehicle's Overall Score, a single number that reflects road-test results, owner satisfaction and reliability survey results, and other key safety data so that consumers have an easy guide when considering a purchase.
“When people are shopping for a new car, our survey data show that safety is among the top attributes they’re looking for,” says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. CR survey data show that 86 percent of buyers say they place high importance on a vehicle that can protect them in a crash, and 65 percent place high importance on crash avoidance features such as automatic emergency braking (AEB). “IIHS Top Safety Picks are a great way to find the safest cars you can buy,” Fisher says.
Harkey told CR that no matter how much they have to spend on a brand new car, shoppers should be able to find vehicles with good safety equipment, including everything from affordable compact cars to luxury SUVs. “You have an array of vehicles to choose from that span quite a price range, so you should be able to find a safe vehicle within this list that meets your transportation needs and meets your budget,” he says. The agency did not test any large SUVs and only tested a few large pickups this year.
It’s good that the safety agency includes other crash avoidance criteria—including headlight tests—when awarding a Top Safety Pick Plus designation, says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. IIHS started testing headlights in 2016.
“A significant number of crashes occur in the dark, and our own headlight tests have shown that headlights are a key component of safety that still have room for improvement,” she says. "By incorporating headlight ratings as a criteria for obtaining their coveted Top Safety Pick designation, IIHS gives automakers even more incentive to improve nighttime visibility."
Next year, IIHS plans to add another test, one designed to evaluate automatic emergency braking systems that can detect pedestrians. The first vehicles to be rated will be a group of 11 small SUVs and will be tested for their ability to lessen or avoid crashes with adult and child pedestrians. Pedestrian fatalities have increased 45 percent since their lowest point in 2009.
“We think this technology has the potential to address that issue,” Harkey says.
IIHS' 2019 Top Safety Pick Plus List
Compact Electric and Hybrid Vehicles
Compact Luxury Cars
Midsized Luxury Cars
? Toyota Avalon (built after September 2018)
Ultra Luxury Cars
Luxury Compact SUVs
Midsized Luxury SUVs
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