Insurance Research Organization’s Safety Pick List Grows to 115

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says a record 115 vehicles have earned its 2012 Top Safety Pick award, with every major automaker nabbing at least one honor in a trend toward increased vehicle safety that seems to be escalating.

Standout manufacturers included Toyota/Lexus/Scion, with 15 winners, and Suburu, which is again the only company to earn the distinction for all of its models. And 10 of the new picks this year are made by Honda/Acura, which hadn’t had a sedan named a safety pick since IIHS added tougher roof strength tests in 2010.

Aerial view of IIHS Vehicle Research Center

The IIHS's Vehicle Research Center in Virginia. (Photo Courtesy of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

A total of 69 cars, 38 SUVs, 5 minivans and 3 pickups were picked by the safety research organization, which is funded by auto insurance companies.

IIHS recognizes vehicles that go beyond federal safety standards to offer the best available protection in front, side, rollover and rear crashes, based on evaluation by the organization’s researchers. By focusing on the four accident types that happen most commonly, the ratings help consumers identify vehicles that offer drivers and passengers the best protection in the event of a crash.

“For the second year running, a record number of models qualify,” Institute President Adrian Lund said in a news release. “It’s tough to win, and we commend auto manufacturers for making safety a top priority.”

IIHS says the growing numbers of vehicles meeting its standards show manufacturers are committed to improving safety. The list of top picks has grown more than tenfold from the 11 models chosen when IIHS started singling out top safety picks six years ago.

Last year, only 66 vehicles qualified for the top pick because less-than-perfect ratings for performance in rollover crashes took many of those vehicles out of the running. But manufacturers redesigned the roofs on those models to make them safer or introduced newer models that met rollover standards, pushing the number of safety picks to 100.

IIHS uses a rolling test schedule that lets additional winners be announced throughout the year as improvements are made.

“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 said. “It’s a testament to the commitment automakers have made to going above and beyond minimum safety standards.”

Rising Safety Standards Could Have Insurance Implications

Insurance industry experts say that safety innovations by carmakers are likely to have a long-term impact on the private vehicle coverage marketplace, which has seen net written premiums rise by only 2.8 percent from 2000 to 2010.

“To the degree that we recover from the recession and people start buying new cars again … the new cars will be safer,” said Steve Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist at the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Weisbart said that should mean less frequent and severe damages for insurers to pay out.

“That’s got to have at least in concept a beneficial impact on” insurer losses, said Weisbart, who was not commenting specifically on the IIHS ratings, but on safety improvements in general.

That could mean insurers will be more likely to pass on some of their savings by rewarding policyholders for having safe vehicles and driving histories, making more motorists eligible for the best priced auto insurance available.

Industry industry experts say insurers are unlikely to hand out discounts to owners of a vehicle just because it was tapped by IIHS as tops in safety. But coverage providers tend to view cars that have a history of below-average levels of occupant injury and medical care costs as a safer bet to cover, so insurers may cut certain types of premiums as a result.

Lund cautioned consumers that, while the list includes a range of vehicle types and sizes, larger and heavier vehicles generally offer greater occupant protection than small, light ones in serious crashes.

Readers who would like to know which types of vehicles tend to have lower-than-average claims costs can refer to rankings on the IIHS website.


About Matthew Morisset
Matthew Morisset is a proud alumnus of the University of Redlands, where he obtained a degree in English Literature. Utilizing his passion for analysis and writing, Matthew looks for important trends in the auto insurance industry and their implications for consumers and the market as a whole.

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