The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Virginia-based organization which represents the interests of the insurance industry and runs its own crash-test program independent of the federal government, has announced its Top Safety Pick awards for 2008.
In order to win the award, a vehicle must earn top 'Good' results in all of categories of the Institute's crash-testing program for front, side, and rear protection. Top Safety Picks must also have electronic stability control (ESC), which federal data, along with that from the insurance industry, has shown to significantly reduce accidents and fatalities. The federal government will require the devices for 2012, giving automakers several model years to phase in the technology.
“If all vehicles were equipped with ESC, as many as 10,000 fatal crashes could be avoided each year,” said Adrian Lund, IIHS president, in a release.
Up until this year, pickups haven't been eligible to win the Top Safety Pick award, as the Institute hasn't side tested them; but beginning with its recent full test of the Toyota Tundra, including side impact, it's the first pickup to qualify for the award. The Tundra has standard side airbags and electronic stability control, but in general, pickups are not as likely as cars or SUVs to have either item.
Regarding pickups, Lund says, “They're also more likely than in the past to be used as family vehicles, so equipping them with the latest safety features is important.”
The other big news is the sheer number of Top Safety Picks. For 2008 there are a total of 34 vehicles on the IIHS list; that's eleven more than for 2007.
A couple of automakers stand out for having a large number of vehicles on the Top Safety list: Ford and its subsidiary Volvo have a total of eight winners, while Honda and Acura have seven winners altogether. Subaru's vehicles also did exceptionally well; the automaker had four models on the list — nearly its entire lineup — though electronic stability control is optional on all but the Tribeca. To contrast, Chrysler doesn't have any vehicles at the top, and General Motors only has one Top Safety Pick, the recently redesigned Saturn Vue. GM recently redesigned the Vue's side curtain bags and had it side-tested a second time, following an 'Acceptable' rating the first time.
The organization says that this year there was an especially long list of “also rans” — vehicles that earned good ratings in both frontal and side crash tests, with stability control standard or optional, and would have been Top Safety Pick winners if their seats and head restraints also earned Good ratings. The list included quite a few models from Toyota and Lexus, along with several models from Nissan and Volkswagen.
The agency's rear evaluation isn't based on an actual rear impact but rather an evaluation of the seat's head-restraint geometry along with a dynamic test, simulating a 20-mph impact, to measure forces at the neck. According to the IIHS, rear impacts usually aren't fatal, but they do result in a large number of mostly avoidable neck injuries — and up to 60 percent of insurance injury claims.
According to the Institute, Toyota/Lexus could have claimed ten more awards with more effective seat/head restraint designs alone. Let the conference calls with seat suppliers begin.
For your perusal, here's the complete list of IIHS Top Safety Picks for 2008:
Large Cars: Audi A6, Ford Taurus (opt. ESC), Mercury Sable (opt. ESC), Volvo S80
Midsize Cars: Audi A3, Audi A4, Honda Accord, Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy (opt. ESC)
Midsize Convertibles: Saab 9-3, Volvo C70
Small Cars: Subaru Impreza (opt. ESC)
Minivans: Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona
Midsize SUVs: Acura MDX, Acura RDX, BMW X3, BMW X5, Ford Edge, Ford Taurus X, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Veracruz, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Saturn Vue, Subaru Tribeca, Toyota Highlander, Volvo XC90
Small SUVs: Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Subaru Forester (opt. ESC)
Large Pickups: Toyota Tundra