The New List of Safest Cars is Out: It will grow During 2018

by Terry Bryant

If you own one of the following 15 vehicles on this list, we have some good news. They’re on the initial list of the 2018 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) survey for earning its Top Safety Pick+ new car rating.

Small Cars

  • Kia Forte sedan
  • Kia Soul
  • Subaru Impreza – 4-door sedan
  • Subaru Impreza – 4-door wagon
  • Subaru WRX

Midsize Cars

  • Subaru Legacy
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota Camry

Large Luxury Cars

  • BMW 5 series
  • (Hyundai) Genesis G80
  • (Hyundai) Genesis G90
  • Lincoln Continental
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan

Midsize SUVs

  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Midsize luxury SUV

  • Mercedes-Benz GLC

But compared to the 2017 list of 71 vehicles which earned IIHS’s highest “Top SafetyPick +” honors, why did so few vehicles earn a top rating? IIHS says that only 31 vehicles were reviewed before releasing the 2018 list in early January. So with almost half of those garnering the highest safety rating, that’s not bad. The organization says it has a long way to go to review all models and may not test every variant. But periodic updates to its 2018 list will be added throughout the year.

The 2018 list is the first year the IIHS established stricter guidelines on the safety of those in the front passenger seat in the event of the vehicle’s hitting a tree or pole. It is called the “small-overlap” test,” and in previous years small-overlap protection was reviewed only for the driver’s side.

“Drivers expect their passengers, who are often family, to be protected just as well as they are,” IIHS president Adrian Lund said in a statement. “Manufacturers have been taking this issue seriously since we first shed light on it, and we’re confident that good small-overlap protection will become the norm on the passenger side, just as it has on the driver side.”

The IIHS is also spending more energy on headlights. “If you’re having trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame,” says David Zuby, IIHS Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer.

Drivers’ ability to see the road ahead, most importantly pedestrians, bicyclists, or obstacles, is essential. And yet, government headlight standards in laboratory tests allow a wide headlight illumination variance in actual on-road driving. When accounting for the fact that roughly half of all traffic deaths occur in the dark or in dawn/dusk conditions, improved headlights – and narrowing those standards of measure – could lead to a profound drop in road fatalities. Hence the IIHS’ greater emphasis on this safety device, and its efforts to make them as “effectively neutral” as possible since testing for headlights began with 2016 models.

After several test modifications, headlights are now evaluated on a closed track after dark at the IIHS Vehicle Research Center. Once a vehicle is tested on the track, the institute’s engineers compare its visibility and glare measurements to those of a hypothetical ideal headlight system. They then use a list of demerits to come up with a rating. Results for low beams receive more emphasis than high beams because drivers use them the most. A vehicle with excessive glare on any of the “driving approach” samples that are measured on the IIHS closed track cannot earn a rating above “marginal” (the third of five evaluation levels).

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