IIHS awards safest cars for 2020

The bar has been raised for vehicle safety in 2020. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced Thursday stricter criteria in awarding its Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ honors to 2020 models. 

Of the 219 new models evaluated, only 64 earned TSP ratings, and only 23 of those earned the TSP+ award, which is the industry’s most comprehensive crash-testing criteria and its most coveted safety award. For car shoppers, it’s a way to assess overall safety with a standard battery of tests across vehicle types and sizes.

“We’re identifying what the real safety problems are from real-world crash data, and how to best protect occupants in a vehicle, or how to prevent a crash from happening,” IIHS President David Harkey said in an interview.

The insurance-industry funded nonprofit runs vehicles through six crash tests and assesses the functionality of headlights and automatic emergency braking to develop a safety rating. For 2020 TSP awards, IIHS added three new elements aimed at safeguarding pedestrians and vehicle occupants.

First, the passenger-side small overlap test that mimics the right side of a car hitting another car or pole must be rated “Good,” up from “Acceptable” last year. 

Second, automatic emergency braking must be offered with pedestrian detection. From 2009 through 2018, pedestrian fatalities have spiked 53% yet traffic fatalities have increased by only 8%, according to the IIHS. 

“Rewarding technology that protects people outside the vehicle is new territory for the TSP awards, but we believe vehicle manufacturers have an important role to play in protecting vulnerable road users,” Harkey said.

With 50% of traffic fatalities occurring at nighttime, when there is far less traffic, the risk for a traffic fatality is far greater at night than in the daytime. This led the IIHS to its third and most significant change for 2020 testing: Vehicles must have headlights standard across every trim level that rank “Good” or “Acceptable.”

“We’re pushing automakers to equip cars with good visibility without glare for the oncoming driver,” Harkey said.    

Safer vehicles could result in more expensive vehicles, as well. “Good” rated LED headlights or high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps with automatic high-beam assist are recommended over weaker halogen lights, but one of those “Good”-rated headlights costs more than $1,000 to repair, the IIHS found. Because headlight prices range from $526 in a Subaru to $3,242 in a BMW 5-Series, the IIHS determined there was a lot of “wiggle room” when it comes to setting prices. 

“Automakers don’t have to spend extraordinary amounts of money to put ‘Good’ or ‘Acceptable’ headlights on a vehicle,” Harkey said. “We’ve asked OEMs to create high-quality headlights without adding cost to the vehicle. This is true of any technology: how to continue offering these safety technologies without substantially increasing the cost of the vehicles.”

The majority of TSP+ winners were sedans, including the Honda Insight, Mazda3, Mazda6, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Lexus ES, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Tesla Model 3, Audi A6, Genesis G70 and G80. The Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid and Subaru Outback also earned TSP+ awards but were classified as cars instead of SUVs.

Crossover SUVs that earned the 2020 TSP+ award include the Mazda CX-3, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Acura RDX, Cadillac XT6, Hyundai Nexo, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class.  

“We had a lot more sedan offerings nominated for testing by automakers,” Harkey said. “We did not have any pickups or minivans in this initial release.”

Nearly every Mazda and Subaru model qualified for TSP and TSP+ awards for 2020, and Hyundai—which includes Genesis and Kia—had 14 qualifying models.

“Our evaluation program forces automakers to try and improve performance,” Harkey explained. “We have a very collaborative relationship to improve safety. We don’t always agree, but our goal is to continue to raise the bar to make improvement that will make products safer for consumers.”

For a complete list of 2020 TSP and TSP+ winners, visit the IIHS.