US: fewer cars earn top safety rating image

Under the new and tougher rules, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says 39 vehicles earned its “Top Safety Pick” ratings for 2014, down from 130 that won the honors last year.

IIHS prods automakers to make tougher cars by crash-testing vehicles; many prospective car and truck buyers consult the ratings, which are tougher than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s five-star crash ratings.

IIHS says 170 vehicles are eligible for the top safety pick awards and it crash tests about 80 vehicles annually. Vehicles that don’t significantly change during a new model year aren’t re-tested. The group said 22 vehicles were classified as “Top Safety Pick+”; while 17 won the “Top Safety Pick.” Many automakers tout the ratings in advertising. Honda led all automakers, with eight models earning “Top Safety Pick” honors.

IIHS is using new criteria for the awards this year. It required good performance in tests for moderate and small overlap for frontal crashes, as well as side protection, roof strength and head restraints. The small overlap test, new this year, gauges what happens when 25 % of a driver’s side front end strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph. The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object, such as a tree or utility pole.

IIHS also offers extra points to automakers whose vehicles have frontal crash avoidance systems – and it is a requirement to get the “Top Safety Pick Plus.”

Among those winning the top honor are the Honda Civic hybrid, Accord and Odyssey and Acura MDX and RLX; Mazda 3 and CX-5; Toyota Prius and Highlander; Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ; Subaru Legacy, Outlook and Forester; Mercedes-Benz M Class; Volvo XC60, S80 and S60. “Top Safety Picks” included the Dodge Dart and Avenger and Chrysler 200; Ford Focus; Honda Civic; Toyota Camry; Volkswagen Passat; and Chevrolet Spark.