You just read a news item that states the new car you are thinking about purchasing has been named a “Top Safety Pick” from the IIHS. OK, great, but what does that actually mean? How does a vehicle qualify for this tagline and who is the IIHS?
Let’s start with the acronym IIHS. It stands for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries, and property damages that result from traffic accidents. Their research focuses on three key areas: Human factors, vehicle factors, and environmental factors, and how altering any or all of these can prevent crashes and reduce injury and death as a result of automobile accidents.
A subsidiary of IIHS is the Highway Loss Data Institute that studies insurance data representing human and economic losses resulting from the operation of different types of vehicles. Both organizations are supported by the nation’s auto insurers.
IIHS was founded in 1959 by three major insurance groups that represented some 80 percent of the U.S. auto insurance market and in 1992 the organization opened the Vehicle Research Center where they conduct all of their crash testing to form the basis of vehicle ratings and thus whether or not a vehicle is named a “Top Safety Pick.”
All of that cool slo-mo crash video we see of glass and metal flying around and crash test dummies tossed about like ragdolls comes from the IIHS facility in central Virginia.
The IIHS uses four key areas of testing to determine which vehicle receive the coveted title of Top Safety Pick. These are: Moderate overlap front test, side test, rollover test, and rear test. Recently a new test has been added at VRC called the small overlap front test and the video below explains its origin and significance.
Currently, a vehicle only needs to perform well in the moderate overlap, side, rollover, and rear testing to be called a “Top Safety Pick.” During testing, each vehicle is assessed a rating of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests, a rollover test, plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts.
IIHS will begin adding the small overlap front crash test once it has completed its MY2013 testing cycle currently underway. In first-round tests of the new criteria earlier this year, 3 of 11 midsize luxury and near-luxury cars earned good or acceptable ratings in testing designed to replicate a vehicle striking a tree, utility pole, or another vehicle with the front corner of the car.
Current and past winners of the Top Safety Pick title are listed on the IIHS website. For MY2012 there are more than 115 vehicles that have been named as Top Safety Picks.
The most recent 2013 honorees of Top Safety Pick are the Lexus ES, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru XV Crosstrek, and Dodge Dart. In September, IIHS bestowed the same honor to the Acura ILX, Ford Escape, Scion FR-S, and Subaru BRZ.