The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducts vehicle tests to determine crashworthiness — how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash. It also rates vehicles for front crash prevention, systems that warn the driver or brake automatically to avoid or mitigate a frontal collision. The vehicles that perform best in the tests qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK, which has been awarded since the 2006 model year, or TOP SAFETY PICK+, which was inaugurated in 2013.

After years in which automakers had to add high-tech features to get top ratings in its survey, the insurance industry’s safety arm is focusing on what many drivers will consider one of the lower-tech aspects of their cars — headlights.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Thursday that it had stiffened the criteria for its highest safety honors, the Top Safety Pick Plus label, toughening standards for headlight performance.

As a consequence, only 38 models from the 2017 model year have achieved the top score, down from 79 of 2016 models, IIHS reports. The group tracks about 200 models.

“We’ve raised the bar,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in an interview. “Automakers have not focused enough attention on whether or not headlamps are aimed such that they light up the road for the driver ahead of them.”

Interestingly, some luxury vehicles come with fancy headlights that shift with the curvature of the road in an effort to provide better illumination, but they don’t always work better than the plain old-fashioned kind, Lund said. Many headlights are failing to provide adequate nighttime visibility or causing too much glare.

“Some lights with the newer technology are not doing as good of a job as older headlights,” Lund said.

For 2017, Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus led all manufacturers with nine models earning the Top Safety Pick Plus designation. It includes Corolla, Prius and Camry cars, the RAV4 crossover and the Lexus NX and RX sport-utility vehicles.

Honda and its luxury brand Acura were second among manufacturers with five vehicles on the list, including the Pilot SUV.

Of the six largest manufacturers, only Ford was shut out from having models with the highest designation.

IIHS conducts several types of crash tests and evaluates vehicles’ integration of various safety technologies such as automatic braking. It often updates its standards to include new features, such as several years ago when it required improved roof strength to prevent injuries in rollover crashes.

One surprise was that the only pickup truck to earn the highest honor was the new Honda Ridgeline. Pickups from General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan all failed to make the list.

“The short story is that pickups are lagging behind in terms of meeting the safety advances that are out there,” Lund said. “We would like to see state-of-the-art-crash protection on pickups.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean pickup trucks that missed the list are more dangerous than smaller vehicles. They still win on sheer heft. Lund said vehicles are rated within their own category and that, in general, “mass and size are still protective.”


2017 model-year IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designees

Small cars

Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Elantra (sedan only, built after March 2016), Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Prius (built after August 2016)

Mid-size cars

Honda Accord 4-door, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry, Toyota Prius v, Volkswagen Jetta

Mid-size luxury cars

Audi A4, Lexus ES 350, Volvo S60, Volvo V60

Large luxury cars

Genesis G80, Genesis G90, Lexus RC

Small SUVs

Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester (built after October 2016), Toyota RAV4

Mid-size SUVs

Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe (built after March 2016)

Mid-size luxury SUVs

Acura MDX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Buick Envision, Lexus NX, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Volvo XC60


Chrysler Pacifica (built after August 2016)

Large pickup

Honda Ridgeline




2016 Top Safety Vehicles


Mini Cooper Hardtop 2-door
Scion iA

Small cars

Acura ILX
Chevrolet Sonic
Chevrolet Volt
Honda Civic 2-door
Honda Civic 4-door
Hyundai Elantra sedan
Kia Soul
Lexus CT 200h
Mazda 3
Nissan Sentra
Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru Impreza
Subaru WRX
Toyota Prius
Volkswagen Golf 4-door
Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
Volkswagen GTI 4-door

Midsize cars

Chevrolet Malibu
Chevrolet Malibu Limited
Chrysler 200
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord 2-door
Honda Accord 4-door
Hyundai Sonata
Kia Optima
Mazda 6
Nissan Altima
Nissan Maxima
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Toyota Camry
Toyota Prius v
Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen Passat

Midsize luxury cars

Audi A3
Audi A4
BMW 2 series
Lexus ES 350
Lincoln MKZ
Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Volvo S60
Volvo V60

Large luxury cars

Acura RLX
Audi A6
Hyundai Genesis
Infiniti Q70
Lexus RC
Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4-door
Volvo S80


Small SUVs

Buick Encore
Fiat 500X
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-3
Mazda CX-5
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4

Midsize SUVs

Chevrolet Equinox
GMC Terrain
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Kia Sorento
Kia Sorento
Nissan Murano
Toyota Highlander

Midsize luxury SUVs

Acura MDX
Acura RDX
Audi Q5
Buick Envision
Cadillac XT5
Infiniti QX60
Lexus NX
Lexus RX
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
Volvo XC60
Volvo XC90

Large SUVs

Audi Q7


Chrysler Pacifica
Honda Odyssey
Kia Sedona
Kia Sedona

Large pickups

Ford F-150 SuperCrew
Ford F-150 SuperCab