WASHINGTON -- Baffled by the plethora of vehicle safety ratings? Help is here.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is offering its first rankings of the 10 safest cars. The Ford Five Hundred, Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy and Honda Civic sedan got the highest "gold" rating. Six other cars won "silver" ratings.
The Arlington, Va., institute, which conducts research for auto insurers, released its rankings on Sunday, Dec. 4. Instead of assigning separate ratings for front crashes, side-impact crashes and head restraints, the new list combines the measures in a single rating.
Now the question is whether automakers will engineer their cars to score well in the combined ratings.
After the insurance institute introduced frontal offset crash testing in 1995, automakers gradually worked to improve on that measure. The institute's offset test is different from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's head-on front test.
To get the gold designation, a car must have good ratings in all three categories. A silver award denotes good ratings for front and side impacts and an acceptable head-restraint rating.
The institute tested 16 small cars, 24 mid-sized cars and three large cars in all three categories. But institute officials say their selections represent the best of all 2006 cars. The officials say they told automakers of their plans to name top picks, and offered to do early testing of models the companies thought might be contenders.