Car buyers often value safety above all the other features of their new cars, SUVs, or light trucks. It’s true that manufacturers often stress other features such as gas mileage or bells and whistles like the latest moonroof or comfortable seat. Still, virtually none neglect descriptions of safety features, which include airbags, crumple zones, and anti-lock brakes. The problem is that this mix and assortment of features leaves buyers with the difficult task of determining which autos are extremely safe and which only claim to be. 24/7 Wall St. sifted through the claims and the data from auto safety measurements used across the industry to find the safest cars sold in America.
Private organizations such as Edmunds, Consumer Reports, and J.D. Power have their own safety benchmarks. While these are often based on government tests and figures, each firm uses its own unique methodology to create its lists of safest cars. The two organizations that issue the most widely and closely followed research are The Insurance Institute for Highway the Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The IIHS describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation’s roads.” The organization measures front crash, side impact, and rear crash effects, as well as roof strength. The weakness of the IIHS system is that its highest rating, Top Safety Picks, number about 100 cars. 24/7 views this set of measurements as incomplete because such large number of vehicles pass the test.
Tests done by the NHTSA, a division of the Department of Transportation, are extremely thorough. The agency posts the results of the tests at Safercar.gov, and its Five-Star Safety Ratings database goes back to 1990. Starting with 2011 models, the NHTSA has upgraded its rating system by introducing “tougher tests and rigorous new 5-Star Safety Ratings that provide more information about vehicle safety and crash avoidance technologies,” the agency notes.
The Five-Star Safety Ratings evaluation covers dozens and dozens of models. However, Catherine Howden of the Department of Transportation told 24/7 Wall St. that “NHTSA rated 81 percent of the light vehicle fleet for the 2012 model year, and estimates 85 percent of the light vehicle fleet for the 2013 model year will be rated.” The ratings are based on measurements of overall safety, frontal crash, side crash, and rollover. Each car can receive up to five stars in each of the four categories, but only four model cars received five stars across all four categories. These are “The Safest Cars In America.”
When reviewing the four cars, 24/7 Wall St. looked at major safety features, even if they were not a part of the government evaluation.