More rigorous testing means fewer cars make IIHS top safety lists for 2014

By , Posted on 02 January 2014

car safety crash testThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given 22 vehicles -- including popular models from Honda, Ford, Mazda, Toyota and Volvo -- its "Top Safety Pick Plus" award for 2014. Another 17 cars were awarded the better known, but less rigorous, "Top Safety Pick" rating for the same year.

There are fewer winners in 2014 -- 39 to the 130 combined in 2013 -- because of new, tougher testing procedures, said IIHS President Adrian Lund.

"We've made it more difficult for manufacturers this year," he explained. "Following a gradual phase-in, the small overlap crash is now part of our basic battery of tests, and good or acceptable performance should be part of every vehicle's safety credentials. We also felt it was time to offer extra recognition to manufacturers that are offering a proven crash avoidance technology."

Cars with the Top Safety Pick distinction had to show "good" performance in moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. For the first time, they also had to score a "good" or "acceptable" rating in the "small overlap front" test, which determines how vehicles handle a front-corner collision, either with an object like a tree or utility pole or another car.

To nab a Top Safety Pick Plus title, much coveted by automakers eager to use it in marketing campaigns, a vehicle must also receive at least a basic rating for frontal crash prevention technology like forward collision warning and automatic braking systems (ABS) as standard or optional features.

Here is the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus list of 2014 models:

  • Acura MDX and RL
  • Ford Fusion
  • Honda Accord (two-door and four-door)
  • Honda Civic Hybrid and Odyssey
  • Lincoln MKZ
  • Nissan Infiniti Q50
  • Mazda 3, Mazda 6 and CX-5
  • Mercedes-Benz M-Class
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Subaru Forester, Legacy and Outback
  • Toyota Highlander and Prius
  • Volvo S60, S80 and XC60.

The institute noted that the Top Safety Pick Plus award is a work-in-progress and not every vehicle model has been tested. The IIHS plans to do that in the coming months.

The Top Safety Pick 2014 vehicles are:

  • Acura TL
  • Chevrolet Spark
  • Chrysler 200
  • Dodge Avenger and Dart
  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic (two-door)
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Kia Optima
  • Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
  • Nissan Altima
  • Scion tC
  • Subaru Impreza and Crosstrek
  • Toyota Camry
  • Volkswagen Passat
  • Volvo XC90.

A safer car can mean lower auto insurance rates

Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute (III), says consumers should pay attention to ratings compiled by the IIHS because auto insurance companies take the overall safety of a car into consideration when underwriting policies.

"There are many factors that go into auto rates, including the cost to repair a car, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft," she explains. "How much damage a car receives in an accident has an impact on how badly injured a person can be as well. With rising medical costs, in connection with personal injury protection coverage, it can have a huge bearing" on the cost of a policy.

Should the ratings be the final say in safety?

Although the IIHS awards -- along with the "five-star" rating system offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) -- are considered gospel in the auto industry, a recent University of Buffalo (UB) study says consumers shouldn't rely on them solely when buying a car. The issue, according to the report, is that the ratings usually focus on tests involving models of similar size and don't usually factor in crashes between a smaller car and, say, a much larger SUV.

Dietrich Jehle, a UB professor of emergency medicine at Erie County Medical Center and the report's lead author, said researchers analyzed federal statistics on more than 83,500 head-on crashes from 1995 to 2010 that resulted in a death and found that:

  • Passenger car drivers had a seven times higher chance of dying than SUV drivers in all head-on crashes, regardless of their vehicle accident safety ratings.
  • When considering safety ratings, the driver of a passenger car with a lower rating had a little over one times higher risk of dying in a head-on crash with a higher-rated passenger car.

The UB study concludes that there's value in the ratings when evaluating similar vehicles; but beyond that, people should study the overall safety records of individual cars before making a decision.

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Des Toups

Des Toups

Managing editor

dtoups@quinstreet.com

Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's. Follow him on Twitter @destoups.

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