IIHS announces tougher criteria for 2020 awards

December 11, 2019

Good or acceptable headlights need to be standard equipment next year for a vehicle to qualify for Top Safety Pick+, the highest award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In addition, front crash prevention that earns at least an advanced rating in both the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations will have to be available. Previously, only the vehicle-to-vehicle rating was required.

The front crash prevention requirements will also apply to the second tier of awards, Top Safety Pick. Available good or acceptable headlights will be required for that award too, though, like this year, they won’t need to be standard.

Both awards will require good crashworthiness ratings across the board. That includes the passenger-side small overlap front test. For 2019, an acceptable rating in the passenger-side test was sufficient for a Top Safety Pick award.

In a departure from early years, the initial crop of 2020 award winners will not be announced until early next year. Previously, the next year’s first winners were announced in November or December.

“As we do nearly every year, we’re making it a little tougher to earn our awards,” says IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. “We hope these changes will encourage automakers to stop equipping vehicles with inferior headlights and speed the adoption of technology that can help protect pedestrians.”

IIHS launched its headlight ratings in 2016. Only three headlight systems from the 2016 model year earned a good rating out of 224 evaluated by IIHS. Another 36 earned an acceptable rating. Since then, the number of good and acceptable ratings has greatly increased. In the 2019 model year, 68 out of 465 systems evaluated were rated good, and 103 were rated acceptable.

However, many of those good- or acceptable-rated headlights are available only as part of optional packages or on higher trim levels. Consumers need to pay special attention if they want to buy a vehicle equipped with them.

IIHS is aiming to address this problem by requiring 2020 Top Safety Pick+ winners to be available only with good or acceptable headlights. That applies equally to expensive lighting options and base headlights.

“Decent headlights should be a given, and we hope this change to our criteria will push manufacturers to make them standard across their lineups,” Zuby says.

Next year will be the first year that pedestrian crash prevention ratings will factor into the awards. Vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention has been factored into one or both awards since 2014.

IIHS introduced its pedestrian crash prevention ratings this year. IIHS tests vehicles in three scenarios, each at two speeds. This technology is important to help address the growing problem of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S., which recently reached their highest levels in more than a quarter century.

Requiring a good rating in the passenger-side small overlap front evaluation completes a phase-in of that crash test. The passenger-side test was introduced in 2017 after IIHS research showed that changes aimed at improving protection in small overlap crashes were not always applied to both sides of the vehicle. IIHS had been conducting driver-side small overlap tests since 2012.

A good or acceptable passenger-side rating was required for the top award in 2018. For 2019, a good or acceptable rating was required for Top Safety Pick, while a good rating was needed to achieve the “plus.”