Whether you're purchasing a car for a teen or yourself, safety matters. And when safety is your main concern, you should look to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ratings to decide which car is right for you.
How does the IIHS rate cars?
The IIHS helps insurance companies and purchasers understand car safety. The organization's mission is to reduce accidents, fatalities and injuries by rewarding auto manufacturers that innovate in driver and passenger safety.
The Institute tests all vehicles to determine ratings for:
Crashworthiness: How well a vehicle protects riders in a crash
Front crash prevention
Systems that warn the driver
Automatic braking to avoid a frontal collision
Which types of crashes does the IIHS test?
Unlike the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the IIHS tests for offset crashes, rather than broad frontal crashes. An offset crash is a crash that doesn't hit directly, which is more common than a "clean," head-on frontal impact. They're more realistic, and a better measure of safety.
The five types of crashes tested by the IIHS include:
Moderate overlap frontal test
Small overlap frontal test
Side impact test
Rear crash protection, or head restraint test
Roof strength evaluation
What do the ratings mean?
Based on how well each car protects crash dummies in these tests, the IIHS assigns a score from "Poor" to "Good." Cars that score exceptionally well, or include extra safety innovations above and beyond industry standards, can receive the highest safety award the IIHS offers: The Top Safety Pick + Award. This is essentially an A+ mark.
Here's a summary of the breakdown:
2018 Top Safety Pick: A vehicle needs good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, roof strength and head restraint tests. It also needs an advanced or superior rating in front crash test prevention and an acceptable or good headlight rating.
2018 Top Safety Pick+: A vehicle must earn good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, along with an acceptable or good rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test. It also must earn an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.
Keep in mind that weight and size factor into safety. The IIHS awards safety ratings by vehicle category. This means that a small SUV with a Top Safety Pick+ rating might be safer than a minicar with the same rating.
Which cars scored a Top Safety Pick+ rating this year?
There are more than 10 Top Safety Pick+ cars in 2018. They range across categories and price ranges. You can find the full list here, but here are some of the top picks that stand out:
1. Kia Rio: Kia Rios built after June 2018 are minicars reinforced with 30% more advanced, high-strength steel and equipped with active safety systems that react to driving conditions.
2. Subaru Crosstrek: The new Subaru Crosstreks, built after April 2018 with optional front crash prevention and specific headlights, are among the top contenders in the small car category. Built from high-strength steel and packed with features like blindspot detection, this car is one to watch.
3. Toyota Camry: The new Camry is a midsize pick with an Advanced Airbag System, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and all of the standard stability and traction controls that put it squarely on the IIHS list of top safety picks.
4. Toyota Avalon: The new Avalon is a large car that features Toyota Safety Sense P. This system includes pedestrian detection, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and automatic high beams.
5. 2018 BMW 5 series: The most recent BMW 5 series historically tops the list, and the 2018 model is no exception. You can give safety an additional boost with some add-on features, like driver assistance, forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking.
6. Lexus RC: The new Lexus RC comes standard with brake assist, traction control, blind spot monitoring, auto-leveling headlights, and lane departure/keeping features.
7. Mazda CX-5: Standard safety features on the new CX-5 include a rearview camera, electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control, and side-impact airbags and air curtains with rollover protection, among others.
8. Hyundai Santa Fe Sport: The new Santa Fe Sport comes standard with blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, a multi-view camera system, smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and much more.
9. 2019 Honda Pilot: All new Pilots now include forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warnings, LED headlights, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control.
10. Acura RDX: The new RDX comes with the AcuraWatch safety system standard. This system includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist. You can upgrade with blind-spot warning, too.
What does car safety mean for you?
Not only does a high safety rating mean you get to save money on your insurance, it also means you and your passengers are more likely to survive a collision.
Cars with a Top Safety Pick+ Award stand up to impact better than the competition, and they also have extras to improve handling, reduce distractions and boost traction. If you're in the market for a new vehicle, check the safety ratings first.