"Manufacturers deserve congratulations for the steady improvements they've made since we last updated our award requirements, but with U.S. traffic fatalities expected to exceed 40,000 people in 2021, it's no time for anybody to rest on their laurels," IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement.
To qualify for a Top Safety Pick award, vehicles must have "good" ratings in all six of the institute's crashworthiness tests. Vehicles also must be available with "good" or "acceptable" headlights and have front crash prevention that the institute considers "superior" or "advanced."
The Top Safety Pick+ is awarded to models that meet those requirements and also have "good" or "acceptable" headlights as standard across all trim levels and packages.
Vehicles from Hyundai, Volkswagen and Volvo received the most awards so far this year, according to the institute's list.
Hyundai Motor Group — the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands — earned 11 Top Safety Pick+ and 10 Top Safety Pick awards.
Volkswagen Group, which includes Audi, followed Hyundai in total awards received, earning eight Top Safety Pick+ and three Top Safety Pick awards.
Volvo earned 10 Top Safety Pick+ awards.
Thirty-four models classified by the institute as SUVs — including the Ford Bronco Sport, VW ID4 and Tesla Model Y — earned Top Safety Pick+ awards. Twenty SUVs — including the Buick Encore GX, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Lexus RX — earned Top Safety Pick awards.
Four pickup trucks — the Hyundai Santa Cruz, Ram 1500 crew cab, Ford F-150 crew cab and extended cab — earned Top Safety Pick awards.
Three minivans — the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna — earned Top Safety Pick+ awards. The Kia Carnival minivan earned a Top Safety Pick.
The IIHS has been using the two-tier award system since 2013 as a way to phase in tougher requirements. For example, it added headlight ratings to its award criteria in 2017 and later started requiring the "good" or "acceptable" ratings for the Top Safety Pick+ award.
"Good" or "acceptable" headlights are standard across all trims for the 65 recipients of the Top Safety Pick+ award, with 31 of those models exclusively equipped with good-rated headlights, the institute said.
In addition to offering improved headlights, automakers this year made vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention standard on more models.
While automatic emergency braking does not have to come standard on vehicles to qualify for either award, automakers have pledged to do so for nearly all light-duty vehicles starting in September, the institute said.
By 2024, the U.S. Department of Transportation's NHTSA expects to initiate a rule-making to mandate automatic emergency braking and pedestrian automatic emergency braking on new passenger vehicles — a requirement in the infrastructure law passed by Congress last year.