New headlight criteria mean fewer vehicles get highest IIHS safety rating
WASHINGTON -- Headlights that failed to measure up led to fewer new vehicles earning the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top accolades in the latest batch of group’s coveted safety evaluations.
Thirty-eight models now have IIHS’ Top Safety Pick+ designation, down from 79 under the group’s previous ratings regime for 2016, the insurer-funded group said.
Toyota Motor Corp. led all automakers with nine winners. Honda Motor Co. was second with five. Among U.S. automakers, only three models earned the distinction.
The overall decrease reflects the addition of new headlight ratings to the IIHS’ ratings criteria for 2017. For the first time, vehicles must earn a “good” or “acceptable” rating on new headlight tests that measure the forward distance illuminated on straight and curved roads to qualify for the Top Safety Pick+ award.
“The field of contenders is smaller this year because so few vehicles have headlights that do their job well, but it’s not as small as we expected when we decided to raise the bar for the award,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a statement.
The industry’s de facto pacesetter on safety equipment turned its attention to the humble headlight after pushing automakers to adopt high-tech crash prevention systems for collision warning and automatic braking in recent years.
IIHS says that roughly half of all fatal crashes occur between dusk and dawn. Yet government standards for the basic safety equipment standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration allow for “huge” variations in illumination, according to the group.
Of roughly 200 models evaluated, only 7 earned “good” headlight ratings.
IIHS says Subaru, Mitsubishi and Toyota were among the automakers that earned the Top Safety Pick+ award by improving the headlights on some of their models over the last year, including the Forester and Outlander SUVs and the Prius hybrid.
In addition to the headlight ratings, vehicles must receive good ratings on all IIHS crash tests and have “advanced” or “superior” collision avoidance systems to earn the Top Safety Pick+ award.
To earn a Top Safety Pick rating, vehicles must meet the same criteria with the exception of the headlight ratings. Forty-four models earned Top Safety Pick ratings in the first batch of 2017 evaluations.
IIHS also says 21 models now have standard automatic emergency braking systems.
The past two years, only the Chrysler 200 sedan among domestic autos made the IIHS's initial list -- and that car isn’t in production as a 2017 model. Despite that absence and the tougher standards, three U.S. models won the designation: GM’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and assembled-in-China Buick Envision SUV as well as Chrysler’s new Pacifica minivan. The Volt, redesigned for 2016, now gets a “good” score on the small-overlap crash test and is available with automatic braking and good headlights, said spokesman Russ Rader.
No Tesla Motors Inc. electric-powered models won a Top Safety Pick award, but Rader said the Model S is currently in testing, as is BMW’s i3 electric car.
IIHS tests vehicles in batches and updates its ratings over time. The first batch of 2016 ratings awarded 48 Top Safety Pick+ designations before growing to 79 before the 2017 ratings regime took effect.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.
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