WASHINGTON -- Even if cars are getting safer, the list of vehicles earning Top Safety Pick honors from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has gotten much shorter for 2014 because of stricter criteria that the IIHS put in place to spotlight new technology.
The group, which is funded by the insurance industry, said today that 22 vehicles earned its highest rating, “Top Safety Pick+,” for 2014, including popular models such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda3, Subaru Forester, and Toyota Highlander.
With just 17 additional models getting the second-tier “Top Safety Pick” rating, the total number of vehicles honored by the IIHS for 2014 declined by 70 percent from the previous year, when 130 models were recognized. Dozens of popular cars and SUVs, including the Ford Explorer, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Jetta, fell from the list entirely, so their makers no longer will be able to use the IIHS award to tout their safety.
The reason is that the IIHS started requiring cars to ace its new “small overlap” crash test to receive either award. And to get Top Safety Pick+ honors, cars had to have some sort of forward collision warning or automatic braking system.
“Consumers who want both crash prevention technology and the latest in occupant protection have a fair number of vehicles to choose from,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a statement. “We hope manufacturers will continue to incorporate front crash prevention, developing more robust systems and adding them to more trim levels or, better yet, making them standard equipment.”
Forward collision warning systems, which use sensors or cameras to watch the road and will sometimes intervene to prevent a crash, are being added to cars at a rapid pace. Automakers are using their own brand names to market them: Volvo calls its system City Safety, while Subaru has EyeSight and Mazda has Smart City.
Insurance data show that such systems can reduce insurance claims by about 15 percent, IIHS says. This fall the group released its first testing on these systems, with Subaru’s EyeSight system doing the best job of preventing crashes on a test track.
Leading the pack in 2014 honors was Honda, with five nameplates receiving Top Safety Pick+ honors, including the Honda Accord, Honda Odyssey and Acura MDX. Mazda, Subaru and Volvo had three winners apiece; Ford and Toyota had two.
The other change was the expanded use of the small-overlap test, introduced in 2012.
That test simulates a crash in which one quarter of the front of a car strikes an object such as a tree, traffic barrier or oncoming car. These accidents are responsible for a disproportionate number of deaths in head-on collisions, largely because it is difficult to design the corner of a car to handle such a severe impact.
Toyota, which has struggled with the test since IIHS introduced it in 2012, now seems to be cracking the code.
Thanks to mid-model-year changes to the structure of the Toyota Prius hybrid, cars built after November earned Top Safety Pick+ honors for 2014.
Likewise, the Toyota Camry, which the magazine Consumer Reports dropped from its list of recommended models in October because of a performance on the test, earned Top Safety Pick honors for 2014 after a mid-cycle change in November.