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IIHS Names Safest 2012 Model Cars

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Side crashworthiness

In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s side crash test, the striking barrier is higher than in the federal government’s test, so it mimics crashes in which occupants’ heads are at risk. Choose a vehicle that earns a good rating in this test.

The number of cars to get top safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has increased for the second year in a row, according to the Institute’s list of “Top Safety Picks,” announced on Thursday. CNN Money writes that the Institute is now looking at making the awards even tougher, according to IIHS spokesman Russ Rader.

As CNN Money reports: “Among the changes being considered are an additional crash test or factoring in safety technology such as blind spot warning systems or crash avoidance systems.”

“It’s tough to win, and we commend auto manufacturers for making safety a top priority,” said Institute president Adrian Lund. The IIHS is a nonprofit group financed by the insurance industry, and its ratings, which began in 2005, are based on tests different from those of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

CNN Money notes that certain cars might get poorer scores in NHTSA auto safety tests despite winning the Insurance Institute’s award. For example, the Fiat 500 is an IIHS award winner despite earning only three out of five stars in NHTSA’s crash tests. A spokesman for Fiat told CNN Money that Fiat is looking into ways to improve its score in the NHTSA tests.

According to an IIHS statement:

In all, 69 cars, 38 SUVs, 5 minivans, and 3 pickups earn Top Safety Pick. The award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, rollover, and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute evaluations. The ratings, which cover all 4 of the most common kinds of crashes, help shoppers pick vehicles that offer the highest levels of crash protection. Because the federal government now requires all 2012 and later passenger vehicles to have electronic stability control to help drivers avoid loss-of-control crashes, ESC no longer is a requirement to win as it was in prior years.

Every major automaker has a least one car model winning an award, with Subaru being the only one to get an award for every model in its 2012 season, including one for the redesigned Impreza, a small car. Toyota/Lexus/Scion has 15 winners for 2012, more than any other manufacturer. General Motors has 14, Volkswagen/Audi has 13, and Honda/Acura has 12.

IIHS’s Lund said Honda/Acura deserves credit for most-improved status. He also said, “It’s great to see the Accord and Camry, two of the top-selling midsize cars in the U.S. market, join the Top Safety Pick ranks this year.”

IIHS writes:

With fuel efficiency and reduced emissions on many buyers’ wish lists, the winners’ circle includes more green choices. Toyota’s all-new Prius v is among them. Roomier than the original, the v hybrid brings to 15 the number of winners available as hybrids. The plug-in electric Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, winners in 2011, also earn this year’s award. […]

‘When we launched Top Safety Pick in 2005, 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.’

Lund told Cheryl Jensen, who writes for The New York Times blog Wheels, that going from 66 winners in 2011 to 115 winners for 2012 was a “huge change in one year.” He attributed the increase to car makers’ redesign and strengthening of vehicle roofs to meet a rollover performance requirement the Insurance Institute has added in 2010. Jensen also reports that “Nissan, Mazda and BMW were the major manufacturers with the fewest picks relative to the number of models they sold.”

Car buyers should take note that the IIHS groups winners according to vehicle type and size, and that size and weight are factors in how able a vehicle is to withstand a crash. As IIHS reports:

Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better occupant protection in serious crashes than smaller, lighter ones. Even with a Top Safety Pick, a small car isn’t as crashworthy as a bigger one.

You can see the complete listing all of the IIHS winners here. And you can see an IIHS video press release here.

Image by IIHS, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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