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Most new cars, minivans, pickups and SUVs perform well in a range of crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as well as the federal government. Still, some models could do a better job of protecting people in rollovers, rear crashes and certain front crashes. Crash avoidance technology is available on many mainstream and luxury models, so safety-conscious buyers also should look for these systems when weighing options.
Whether you are in the market for a new or used vehicle, here are some things to consider:
Look for vehicles that earn IIHS Top Safety Pick+ or Top Safety Pick, plus at least 4 of 5 stars from NHTSA.
A good place to start your research is with our vehicle ratings. IIHS rates new models based on how well they protect people in front, side, rollover and rear crashes. IIHS also evaluates the performance of headlights and front crash prevention systems with automatic braking. Models with the highest ratings qualify for an IIHS safety accolade.
To win either IIHS award, vehicles must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests and also earn an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention. To earn the highest award, Top Safety Pick+, models also must have good- or acceptable-rated headlights.
Find vehicles with crash avoidance features here. See headlight and front crash prevention ratings by make and model here.
NHTSA also identifies models with advanced features such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning and rearview cameras.
Front crash prevention with autobrake
Protecting people in crashes is vital. Avoiding them altogether is ideal. Crash avoidance systems can help. Most automakers offer them on 2017 models. So far two features — front crash prevention and adaptive headlights — are reducing crashes, based on HLDI analysis of insurance losses.
Front crash prevention systems include forward collision warning and autobrake. Warning systems alert you if you get too close to a car in front. Autobrake systems can brake if you don't respond in time. Curve-adaptive headlights shift direction as you steer to help you see better on curves in the dark. High-beam assist technology automatically switches between high beams and low beams. Lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot detection are other technologies intended to help drivers avoid crashes. So far, IIHS and HLDI haven't been able to quantify their benefits.
If a brand-new car isn't in your budget, keep in mind that late-model vehicles in general are safer than older ones. Our list of recommended used vehicles for teenagers is a good resource for drivers of any age. Here are some tips for choosing a previously owned vehicle:
Find models with side airbags and ESC and look up crash test ratings and prior years' award winners.
©1996-2016, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
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