The list of vehicles earning top safety ratings for 2017 by offering the highest levels of crash protection was released on Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Overall, 82 cars made the cut from about 200 that were evaluated, the nonprofit group financed by the insurance industry said when it announced its safety awards.
The institute’s highest designation of Top Safety Pick +, which recognizes vehicles that offer an advanced level of safety, was awarded to 38 models; other 44 vehicles earned the basic Top Safety Pick award.
Toyota/Lexus leads manufacturers with nine cars in the top category, including the updated Toyota Corolla. Honda and its Acura division earned five awards in the second category level.
To qualify for both 2017 categories, a vehicle must earn good ratings in a series of the institute’s crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention with standard or optional automatic braking technology. This year, for the first time, more stringent criteria were introduced to evaluate headlights.
Among the 38 models with the highest “plus” designation for 2017, only seven met the new requirements and are available with top-rated headlights.
“The field of contenders is smaller this year because so few vehicles have headlights that do their job well, but it’s not as small as we expected when we decided to raise the bar for the awards,” Adrian Lund, the institute’s president, said in a statement. “Manufacturers are focusing on improving this basic safety equipment, and we’re confident that the winners’ list will grow as the year progresses.”
The institute launched headlight ratings earlier this year after finding that government standards allow for huge variation in the amount of illumination headlights provide, a critical factor, as nighttime visibility is crucial to highway safety because about half of traffic deaths occur either in the dark or at dawn or dusk.
The group also noted that a vehicle’s price doesn’t necessarily correspond to the quality of headlights.
“More modern lighting types, including high-intensity discharge (HID) and LED lamps, and curve-adaptive systems, which swivel in the direction of steering, also are no guarantee of good performance,” the report said.
Several manufacturers improved headlights and design improvements since last year’s ratings, and automatic braking systems are standard on more models.
Automakers have voluntarily committed to making automatic braking a standard feature on all U.S. models by 2022, the institute said, noting that its research shows that those systems reduce front-into-rear crashes, the kind most common in commuter crashes, by 50%.
Other highlights of the testing indicate that some vehicles did not qualify for the top designation due to the way automakers bundle optional safety features, which omit top-rated ones. Consumers are advised to ask for highest-rated headlights when purchasing a vehicle, as performance can vary by trim level, according to the institute.