27 Mar 2012
IIHS awards TOP SAFETY PICK to 118 models for 2012

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s TOP SAFETY PICK designation recognizes the vehicles that do the best job of protecting occupants in the most common kinds of crashes. The Institute began rating vehicles for frontal crashworthiness in 1995. New evaluations were added in the years that followed, so the Institute decided to provide consumers with an overall assessment based on performance in all of its tests.

The TOP SAFETY PICK award, begun for 2006 models, makes it easier for consumers to compare vehicles’ ratings at a glance and choose from the list of the safest models. Qualifying vehicles this year earn good ratings in front, side, rollover, and rear crash evaluations so consumers don’t have to sacrifice protection in one kind of crash for another. In addition, electronic stability control which has been a requirement for the award since 2007 to help drivers avoid loss-of-control crashes, is standard on all vehicles because the U.S. government now mandates it.

The list of winners is longer than ever for 2012, demonstrating how tests that arm consumers with important safety information can pressure automakers to engineer more crashworthy vehicles. In all, 71 cars, 39 SUVs, 5 minivans, and 3 pickups earn this year’s award.

“For the second year running a record number of models qualify,” says Institute president Adrian Lund. “It’s tough to win, and we commend auto manufacturers for making safety a top priority.”

That commitment to protecting people in crashes is evident in the fast pace of design improvements automakers have made during the past year. Initially 66 vehicles qualified for last year’s award as less-than-perfect rollover ratings held back many contenders. Later the number climbed to 100 as manufacturers redesigned roofs to make them stronger or introduced new models to win. The Institute’s rolling test schedule allows for recognition of additional winners throughout the year, so many 2012 models qualified for a 2011 TOP SAFETY PICK.

Again this year every major automaker has at least one winner. Subaru remains the only manufacturer with the distinction of earning awards for every model it builds. Subaru picks up 5 awards. Toyota/Lexus/Scion has 15 winners for 2012, more than any other auto manufacturer. General Motors is next in line with 14, followed by Volkswagen/Audi with 13, and Ford/Lincoln and Honda/Acura with 12 awards apiece.

Ten of the 18 new additions are Honda/Acura models, including the midsize Accord sedan, which hadn’t earned TOP SAFETY PICK since the Institute toughened criteria to win the 2010 award by adding a test to assess roof strength in a rollover crash.

Vehicles rated good for rollover protection have roofs more than twice as strong as the current U.S. federal standard requires. The Institute estimates that such roofs reduce the risk of serious and fatal injury in single-vehicle rollovers by about 50 percent compared with roofs meeting the minimum requirement. A new federal standard for roof strength will phase in beginning with 2013 models.

Roofs on the 2009 Honda CR-V and 2010 Pilot scored marginal ratings in prior Institute tests, while earlier models of the Accord, CR-Z, Fit, and Insight rated acceptable. Now all of these 2012 models earn good ratings and TOP SAFETY PICK.

“Honda/Acura deserves credit for most-improved status,” Lund says. “The automaker buckled down and upgraded roofs on 10 models that missed winning last year because of rollover protection. Now, the automaker has winners in the minicar, small car, midsize car, small SUV, midsize SUV, minivan, and large pickup categories.”

The Toyota Camry, usually the best-selling midsize sedan in the U.S. market, earns its first-ever TOP SAFETY PICK. Last year, the Camry missed the mark because of a marginal rating for seat/head restraints.

“When we launched TOP SAFETY PICK, consumers had 11 models to pick from. Six years later, finding a winner that fits most budgets and lifestyles is easy,” Lund says. “It’s a testament to the commitment automakers have made to going above and beyond minimum safety standards.”

The Institute plans to toughen the criteria to earn the top accolade again later this year by introducing a new, more challenging frontal crash test. The new test was developed through research analyzing fatal frontal crashes involving vehicles that are rated good in the Institute’s current frontal offset test. In addition, like other testing organizations, the Institute expects to incorporate other crash avoidance technologies into its rating system based on results of their real-world effectiveness.

For more information go to www.iihs.org or email publications@iihs.org