When it comes to auto safety, it pays to practice defensive shopping.
In that case, a little history on how certain models have performed in crash tests won’t hurt, and this is precisely where the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) comes in. Since 2006, their annual Top Safety Picks have helped consumers identify wheels with the most worthy track records.
In fact, IIHS has been riding shotgun on car safety research for decades. They started rating vehicles in 1995, child booster seats in 2008, LATCH child-seat installations in 2015 and headlights in 2016. Now they’re focusing on passenger-side protection.
See all of 2017’s Top Safety Picks—and read on for the IIHS’ guidance on how to narrow your choices for a safer car.
What The Ratings Mean
The safety ratings from IIHS cover between 130 to 160 of the best-selling new models. The effort required to keep these up to date requires conducting 80 to 100 crashtests, as well as tests of dozens of headlight options and front crash prevention systems every year. Cars that the group rates as “Top Safety Picks” earn solid marks in both categories. A “good” rating for front “moderate overlap” protection lowers the odds of being killed in a crash by 40 percent compared with a “poor” rating. Meanwhile, a “good” rating in side-crash protection cuts that risk by 70 percent.
“By giving consumers information about which cars are safer, the ratings provide incentives for the automakers to make their products safer,” says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. What’s more, Zuby says, carmakers’ fears of earning poor ratings have encouraged them to speed improvements to market.
How IIHS Findings Can Help You
If you’re shopping for a new set of wheels, three steps can make it easier:
- Rely on research. Check the IIHS’ ratings—along with those from the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—to learn if the wheels you want made the cut. Use the results to guide you as you shop.
- Remember: Larger equals safer. In general, larger, heavier vehicles usually offer more protection than smaller, lighter ones. “If safety in a crash is important,” Zuby says, “consider a big car rather than a small car.”
- Be picky with pre-owned. If you can’t find ratings for a specific used car, look at high-rated models from around the same year and broaden your search to include those.
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By Ira Hellman
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