Sometimes simple changes add up to meaningful improvements.
That’s the case for vehicle safety as the number of cars, trucks and SUVs earning the highest ratings from the nonprofit that assesses vehicle safety more than doubled for the 2021 model year, in large part due to tweaks involving features like headlights.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named 49 vehicles as Top Safety Pick+ award recipients for 2021 and another 41 for its second tier, Top Safety Pick.
“The good news this year is consumers have a lot to choose from,” insurance institute President David Harkey said. “There should be something to meet your needs.”
The honors, which automakers often trumpet in marketing campaigns, reflect an assessment of crash-test performance, advanced safety features, engineering and design.
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But features as ordinary as headlights sometimes are the difference between making the list or not, Harkey said.
In 2020, only 23 vehicles initially qualified for Top Safety Pick+ in large part due to the insurance institute’s decision to require “good” or “acceptable” headlights as standard equipment.
Let there be better headlights
This year, a number of vehicles made significant strides in headlight improvements after years of the insurance institute flagging them for underwhelming performance. The group has previously criticized automakers for focusing too much on looks and not enough on basic elements such as installing the lights correctly to ensure they’re properly aimed.
“We saw dramatic improvements in automakers who have figured out how to create better-performing headlights, reduce the glare for oncoming drivers and get winning scores in our headlight test,” Harkey said.
Hyundai, Genesis and Kia, which are part of the same Korean manufacturer, had the most vehicles on either insurance institute list with 17.
Volvo had the most insurance institute Top Safety Pick+ vehicles with nine, in large part because “they’ve figured out the headlights,” Harkey said.
While every brand but low-volume Mitsubishi had at least one vehicle earn insurance institute honors, Harkey noted that high-volume automakers like General Motors and Stellantis (the company that now owns the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) should be performing better, especially given their popular pickups and SUVs.
“The fact that these companies produce so many models yet have so few award winners is still disappointing and something we need to continue to work with them on to make improvements,” Harkey said.