66 vehicles get insurance institute’s highest safety rating

Automobiles — whether economy cars or the top luxury models — are rapidly becoming safer to drive, an insurance industry trade group said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released its Top Safety Pick ratings for the 2011 model year Tuesday, saying 66 vehicles, including 40 cars and 25 sport utility vehicles, earned the group’s highest safety ranking.

That’s more than double the 27 vehicles that achieved the group’s top safety grade at the start of this year. Big improvements to roofs to protect passengers in rollover accidents contributed to a greater number of vehicles’ achieving better rankings.

“That gives consumers shopping for a safer new car or SUV plenty of choices to consider in most dealer showrooms,” said Adrian Lund, the institute’s president. “In fact, every major automaker has at least one winning model this year.”


The entire list can be found at the institute’s website at https: The institute has 191 vehicles rated on its website.

More autos are achieving the highest rating because better safety equipment is increasingly standard, Lund said. The insurance industry-funded trade group said 92% of 2011 model year cars, 94% of SUVs and 56% of pickup trucks now have standard head and torso side airbags. Electronic stability control is standard on 92% of 2011 cars, all SUVs and 72% of pickups.

Hyundai Motor Co. and its sister company, Kia Motors Corp., had nine winning vehicles for the 2011 model year. Volkswagen and its corporate sibling Audi also had nine vehicles in the top category.

Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. had eight top awards apiece. Subaru was the only manufacturer with a winner in all of the vehicle classes in which it competes, garnering five top picks.


Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, attributed the proliferation of safety features to Congress, saying that in recent years lawmakers have pressed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set more stringent standards.

Electronic stability control, for example, must be standard in all 2012 model year cars, and more automakers are installing side-curtain airbags to satisfy a phase-in of stricter side-impact crash protection over the next several years.

“The two features we like the most are electronic stability control and side-curtain airbags,” Ditlow said. “No consumer should have a car without those two features.”

Federal safety regulators also have changed their evaluations and testing methods to give consumers a better view of vehicle safety ratings. In October, the Transportation Department and NHTSA unveiled a more comprehensive crash rating system for vehicles.


For the first time, the government will evaluate how women fare in accidents by using female crash dummies. The new ratings also take into account side pole crashes and crash-prevention technology such as electronic stability control.

The agencies also said they would now issue an overall vehicle score that combines the results of a frontal crash test, side crash tests and rollover resistance tests.

Automakers are reacting to these changes, Lund said.

Ford added safety features when it brought out its redesigned Explorer mid-size SUV at the start of the 2011 model year. The Explorer, one of the best selling SUVs ever, had never previously earned a top insurance institute rating.


Ford also upgraded the roofs of its Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT SUVs as well as its Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans. The four vehicles previously failed to win top safety rankings because they lacked the required roof strength.

Meanwhile, when GM launched its Chevrolet Cruze compact car this year, it put 10 airbags, including knee protection, into the vehicle as standard equipment, the insurance group said.

Some segments of the industry still lag behind when it comes to safety features. None of the small pickup trucks the institute evaluated qualified for this year’s award. It has not yet tested large pickups.