Tips on Picking the Safest Car for You and Your Family

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IIHS Facebook Live Recap

More than half of today’s car shoppers research a vehicle’s safety equipment and how it performed in crash tests before deciding to buy. Who better to turn to than our friends at Insurance Institute for Highway Safety their guidance and expertise on this very important topic?!!

We sat down with Joseph Young, Media Relations Director at the IIHS, in a recent Facebook Live interview to discuss choosing the safest vehicle for you and your family. Joseph serves as the IIHS’s main point of contact for journalists seeking traffic safety information, and also oversees the institute’s social media presence.

What is IIHS?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent nonprofit research and communications organization whose mission is to prevent injuries, death, and property loss on our nation’s roads. The IIHS was founded in 1959 and initially functioned as a supplementary program assisting other research organizations, before later branching off as an independent organization doing its own research.

When you think of the IIHS, you may think of crash test dummies, but crash testing at their Vehicle Research Center didn’t come along until much later, in the mid-1990s. They crash test vehicles in a variety of configurations in order to encourage automakers to continue to improve the safety of their vehicles. However, that’s just one of the many studies IIHS focuses on! That’s the focus of our blog today, but to take a deep dive into the rest of their research, make sure to visit

Safety has not always been a big selling point in vehicles. Automakers have been required to meet stringent regulations for decades, but safety was not a major focus of those regulations until fairly recently. IIHS is all about focusing on real-world data and evaluating the best ways to make vehicles safer in every likely scenario.

What Kind of Testing Does IIHS Perform?

2022 Volvo C40 Recharge side IIHS crash test

Most of IIHS’ crash tests involve barriers (crashing into a fixed object). They evaluate a vehicle’s “crashworthiness” by conducting 6 major crash tests for each model:

Moderate Overlap Frontal Test

A vehicle travels at 40mph toward a barrier, with 40% of the vehicle’s width striking the barrier on the driver-side.

Driver-side Small Overlap Frontal Test

A vehicle travels at 40mph toward a barrier, with 25% of the vehicle’s width striking the barrier on the driver-side.

Passenger-Side Small Overlap Frontal Test

A vehicle travels at 40mph toward a barrier, with 25% of the vehicle’s width striking the barrier on the passenger side.

Side Crash Tests

A 4,200-pound barrier with the approximate height of an SUV hits the driver and passenger sides at 37mph.

Roof Strength Test

A metal plate is pushed down onto one side of a vehicle’s roof at a slow but constant speed until the roof has been crushed 5 inches. The amount of weight it takes before the roof is crushed determines the overall roof strength.

Head Restraints and Seat Test

A dummy with a realistic spine is placed in a vehicle seat on a sled, which is then moved to simulate being rear-ended.

It’s also important to take the size and weight of a vehicle into account when conducting a crash test. Different vehicles provide different levels of protection. Physics always prevails in a collision, so driving the smallest vehicle on the road has its drawbacks when it comes to safety.

Make sure to check out the IIHS YouTube channel to see more examples of crash testing in action!

How Many Cars Does the IIHS Crash?

Car Lot/Image Credit: jhengyaolin

The IIHS has website ratings for over 200 models! But how do they get ahold of the vehicles they test? They obtain their vehicles for crash tasting just like any consumer would: they buy them from dealerships! They want a standard run-of-the-mill vehicle that an average car shopper would buy, not one that’s been customized or additionally reinforced.

The good news is, that they don’t have to test each model every single year in 6 different crash tests. Most models go several years between redesigns, so ratings can often carry over from year to year. Additionally, within a given OEM, a rating may carry from one SUV to the other that are built on the exact same platform.

The IIHS also has a program (the Verification Test Program) that gives OEMs the opportunity to perform the tests themselves and submit the required photo, video, and crash test dummy data. The IIHS performs regular audits of these tests to ensure that the integrity of those results is maintained.

The IIHS has a very strong relationship with automakers, as all involved want the vehicles to be as safe as possible. However, Mr. Young makes a point of noting that they aren’t afraid to call the OEMs out when they get a bad test rate!

Safety Features That are Worth the Money

There’s an abundance of safety technology available in today’s vehicles. Which ones are worth the money? Joe breaks it down for us:

Backup Cameras

These are standard at this point in most vehicles and have actively been required for several years.

Electronic Stability Control

This is a crash avoidant technology that’s essentially an extension of anti-lock brakes. To put it simply, it keeps your vehicle moving in the direction it’s supposed to be by applying the appropriate brake pressure to each wheel.

Automatic Emergency Braking

Also sometimes known as Front Crash Prevention Technology. This feature warns you that something’s in your way and will apply the brakes automatically if you don’t respond. Vehicles with this technology are involved in about 50% fewer front to rear crashes than vehicles without it! Additionally, these systems now recognize pedestrians as well, which is incredibly important for overall safety.

Starting at the end of this year (2022), Automatic Emergency Braking is going to be a standard feature on new vehicles, thanks to a voluntary commitment that automakers have entered into.

Lane Departure Warning

This technology will let you know if you’re drifting out of your lane and has proven to reduce crashes!

Blindspot Warning

An indicator on your side mirror lets you know that someone is in your blind spot.

IIHS’ New Headlight Program

Car Headlights/Image Credit: pixelshot

In recent years, the IIHS has started to pivot from focusing on JUST crashworthiness to also addressing crash PREVENTION. This is an area where headlight technology plays a major role. Headlights range dramatically in performance and how well they light the road. While all vehicles must meet government requirements, there is still a huge variation in the quality of headlights found on the market.

Their tests assess overall visibility, as well as how clearly they can put light down on the road WITHOUT causing glare for oncoming traffic.

IIHS Top Safety Picks

Top Safety Pick Awards/Image Credit: IIHS

So how does a car earn the much-revered IIHS Top Safety Pick and IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus awards? Joe broke down the criteria for us. To be a Top Safety Pick, a vehicle:

  • Needs to get a “Good” rating (their top rating) in all 6 crash tests
  • Must achieve an “Advanced” or “Superior” rating in vehicle-to-vehicle and pedestrian front crash prevention tests
  • Headlights need to rate either “Acceptable” or “Good” as an option
  • Top Safety Pick PLUS is reserved for models for which those “Acceptable” or “Good” headlights are standard equipment across all trims and packages.

The IIHS puts out the initial list at the beginning of each year but will periodically announce models that have recently qualified for these awards. There are also quite a few models in 2022 that have made the list, from pickup trucks to EVs, meaning there really is a safe ride for every taste and preference!

Are EVs Safe?

There has been some concern about the safety of electric vehicles. Joe talked us through how the IIHS addresses those concerns when testing EVs for safety. Crash testing for EVs is conducted in the same way as they are for internal combustion vehicles. They also monitor EV batteries for potential issues, but so far haven’t encountered any problems. Joe noted that the media can tend to overemphasize anomalies when discussing EV issues. However, if your vehicle has a recall, GET IT TAKEN CARE OF, whether it’s electric or gas-powered.

EVs are also quite heavy, which makes them surprisingly more durable in a collision.

Equipped with all this safety information, the next step is up to you! Are you ready to start shopping for you and your family’s safe new ride? That’s where BestRide can help! BestRide is the smartest, easiest way to find a car! Start your search today.

Annie Boss

Annie Boss

Annie grew up in a small mining town in northern Utah, which gave her an early appreciation of big trucks with even bigger tires. She has a true passion for writing, as well as injecting lighthearted fun and gentle goofs into every piece she puts out. Annie now resides in Phoenix, Arizona, and has been writing about automotive and automotive-adjacent topics for the past two years. Her dream car is a bright yellow hard top Jeep Wrangler with SHERA on the vanity plate.