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Most new cars, minivans, pickups and SUVs earn good ratings in most crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Some models still need improvement when it comes to protecting people in rollovers, rear crashes and certain types of front crashes. So how is a safety-conscious buyer to choose? The information here, along with our vehicle ratings, can help you identify the best picks.
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 in our vehicle ratings section. Each year, IIHS rates new models based on how well they protect people in front, side, rollover and rear crashes. IIHS also rates the performance of front crash prevention systems, including forward collision warning and automatic braking. Models with the highest ratings qualify for an IIHS safety accolade.
To earn a Top Safety Pick+ award, models must achieve good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests; a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test; and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.
Models that meet the crash test ratings criteria but have a basic-rated front crash prevention system or no system at all qualify for Top Safety Pick.
Find vehicles with crash avoidance features here.
NHTSA also identifies models with advanced features such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning and rearview cameras.
Front crash prevention | adaptive headlights
Protecting people in crashes is vital. Avoiding them altogether is ideal. Crash avoidance systems can help. Many automakers offer them on 2015 models. So far two features — front crash prevention and adaptive headlights — are reducing crashes, based on analysis of insurance losses by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of IIHS.
Front crash prevention systems fall into two categories: 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. Others brake without warning you first.
Adaptive headlights shift direction as you steer to help you see better on curves in the dark. Lane departure warning and blind spot detection are two other technologies intended to help drivers avoid crashes. So far, IIHS and HLDI haven't been able to quantify their benefits.
IIHS has been awarding Top Safety Pick since 2006 and Top Safety Pick+ since 2012. Here are some things to help assess the crashworthiness of older models:
Find models with side airbags and ESC and look up crash test ratings and prior years' award winners.
©1996-2015, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
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