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IIHS Takes Top Safety Picks to a Higher Level

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) has raised the bar on frontal crash protection with a fifth safety test. Vehicles that perform well in all five categories can now earn a higher level of recognition: Top Safety Pick+.

April 2013, Automotive Fleet - Feature

by Shelley Mika - Also by this author

The dummy’s position in relation to the door frame, steering wheel, and instrument panel after the new small overlap frontal test indicates that the driver’s survival space was maintained reasonably well, according to the IIHS.
The dummy’s position in relation to the door frame, steering wheel, and instrument panel after the new small overlap frontal test indicates that the driver’s survival space was maintained reasonably well, according to the IIHS.

At a Glance

Earning a Top Safety Pick+ designation means a vehicle has excelled in these five IIHS crast test categories:

● Moderate overlap frontal: Assesses occupant protection and vehicle’s structural designs when part of the front crumple zone is engaged.

● Small overlap frontal: Assesses occupant protection and vehicle’s structural designs when most of the front crumple zone is bypassed.

● Side: Assesses occupant protection when vehicle is struck in the side by an SUV or pickup.

● Rollover: Assesses vehicle roof strength for protection in rollover crashes.

● Rear: Focuses on how well seat/head restraint combinations protect against whiplash injuries.


The bar has been raised for the Top Vehicle Safety Pick designation. New for 2013, vehicles that excel in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)’s new small overlap test — in addition to earning good ratings in the Institute’s four other safety tests — will earn Top Safety Pick+ status. The addition of this test has already prompted automakers to make design changes to meet the new requirements, and will likely reduce head, chest, leg, and foot injuries.

The Next Step in Improving Frontal Crash Protection

According to a 2009 IIHS study of vehicles with good ratings for frontal crash protection, small overlap crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury to front seat, belted occupants. These results prompted the addition of the new test and Top Safety Pick+ designation.

Currently, vehicles are rated based on four safety tests: moderate overlap frontal, side impact, rollover/roof strength, and a rear impact test to evaluate whiplash protection. The new small overlap frontal test adds another dimension to safety testing in frontal crashes. This test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or object, such as a tree or pole.

In moderate overlap frontal tests, 40 percent of the total width of a vehicle strikes a barrier on the driver’s side. In the small overlap test, just 25 percent of a car’s front end on the driver side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph.

“Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes each year. Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities,” said Adrian Lund, IIHS president. “The new small overlap test program is based on years of analyzing real-world frontal crashes and then replicating them in our crash test facility to determine how people are being seriously injured and how cars can be designed to protect them better. We think this is the next step in improving frontal crash protection.”

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