New standards for headlights and front-end crashes are making it harder for new cars and trucks to receive an insurance-industry-backed group’s highest safety rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave just 15 vehicles its highest rating of Top Safety Pick+ for 2018, compared with 38 for 2017 and 48 for 2016.
For the top rating, many vehicles were tripped up by the addition of a passenger-side small-overlap front crash test that was added to the criteria for the award. The IIHS has been rating vehicles for driver’s-side protection in small-overlap front crashes since 2012 but only recently developed the test for the passenger side. It released the first test results in October. Vehicles had to get an Acceptable or Good (top) rating in the test to be named a Top Safety Pick+.
While automakers have been beefing up the structural integrity of the driver’s side of their vehicles, some may have neglected the passenger side, IIHS said. IIHS senior research engineer Becky Mueller told Car and Driver that automakers have been adding cross bracing and stronger metal to improve areas around the vehicle’s door frame and floorpan. “Vehicles that applied the same structures to the driver and passenger sides of vehicles typically performed well for both the driver and passenger small-overlap tests,” Mueller said. “This means that manufacturers already have the know-how to better protect passengers in small overlap.”
But apparently, not all cars and trucks have been improved across their entire front ends. In a press release, IIHS president Adrian Lund noted that drivers “expect that their passengers, who are often family, will be protected just as well as they are. Manufacturers have been taking this issue seriously since we first shed light on it, and we’re confident that good small-overlap protection will become the norm on the passenger side, just as it has on the driver side.”
Nearly 50 Named Top Safety Pick
In addition to the 15 Top Safety Pick+ winners, 47 were named Top Safety Pick. There was no passenger-side small-overlap requirement to get the Top Safety Pick award.
IIHS said the vast majority of the winners were optionally equipped, because front-end crash-prevention technology and decent-performing headlights—two key factors for the Top Safety Pick honor—are generally not available on base-trim cars and trucks. It noted that some automakers are vowing to make automated emergency braking standard by 2022 and singled out Toyota as being ahead of that curve. Seven of its models have it as standard: the Camry, Corolla, Prius, Prius Prime, and Highlander and the Lexus IS and NX. Nissan has pledged to make it standard on most 2018 models.
Meanwhile, automakers continue to have some trouble with the IIHS’s headlight tests, which are relatively new. IIHS evaluates headlights on how well they illuminate the road as well as the amount of glare they create for oncoming vehicles. For a vehicle to be named a Top Safety Pick, its headlights need to be deemed Acceptable or Good, and they have to reach the top rating of Good for a vehicle to be labeled Top Safety Pick+.
Among the 15 models given the highest award of Top Safety Pick+, Hyundai Motor Company led all automakers, with its Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis brands placing six models in the top category. It was followed by Subaru, which had four models, and Mercedes-Benz, with two. Toyota, BMW, and Ford each placed one model on the Top Safety Pick+ list.
Here’s a complete rundown of the 2018 IIHS award winners: