Once a year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute put out their list of America’s safest cars. Each agency is supported by the insurance industry, and both have roots that go back decades. The IIHS was founded in 1959.
The list is based on measures that have been developed for over a decade. Occasionally, based on evolving car technology, a new factor will be added. Currently, evaluations are based on nine metrics, each added in a different year. These are safety in modest overlap front crashes (1995); side crashes (2003); head restraints and seats (2004); roof (2009); small overlap front, driver’s side (2012); front crash protection, vehicle to vehicle (2013); headlights (2016); small overlap front, passenger-side (2017); and front crash protection, vehicle to pedestrian (2019).
The association’s experts simulate crashes with sophisticated dummies to represent humans. Awards fall into two categories, depending on how each car test rates against the nine metrics. Those will the highest score receive a Top Safety Pick+ award. Those with slightly lower, but strong scores are awarded the Top Safety Pick designation.
This year, a record 90 vehicles received one award or the other, up from 64 last year. Forty-nine received the Top Safety Pick+, more than double last year. Each vehicle awarded falls into one of several categories (see below).
Commenting on the reason for the tests, IIHS President David Harkey said:
With these awards, we want to make it easy for consumers to find vehicles that provide good protection in crashes, sufficient lighting and effective front crash protection. Manufacturers have stepped up to meet the challenge, and the list of great options has grown to an impressive size this year.
These are the safest cars in America, sorted by category:
2021 Top Safety Pick+
Mazda 3 sedan
Mazda 3 hatchback
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Kia K5 built after November 2020
Nissan Maxima built after November 2020
Midsize Luxury Cars
Lexus ES 350
Tesla Model 3
Volvo S60 Recharge
Volvo V60 Recharge
Large Luxury Cars
Audi A6 allroad
Mazda CX-30 built after September 2020
Midsize Luxury SUVS
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class with optional front crash prevention
Volvo XC60 Recharge
Volvo XC90 Recharge
Audi e-tron Sportback