Sure, performance and technology are important in a new car, but many buyers consider safety an even more crucial factor. For consumers everywhere, a car without strong safety ratings or certain safety features will be crossed off a shopping list. So how should you go about researching a safe car, SUV, or truck? Here’s what you should know.
What Are Car Safety Ratings?
Looking for the safest small SUV or midsize sedan? To determine which vehicles are the safest picks, start with crash test safety ratings from NHTSA and IIHS.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a government agency under the U.S. Department of Transportation that rates vehicles on a five-star system. The more stars a vehicle earns, the lower the chance of injury there is to occupants in the event of a collision. NHTSA conducts front and side impact tests, as well as a rollover test.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent agency created by a group of auto insurance associations, gives crash test ratings of Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. Tests include front, side, roof strength, and head restraint and seat evaluations. In recent years, the agency started rating the ability of autobrake systems to avoid a crash. Another recent addition to the IIHS program is the headlight test.
As of 2022, vehicles that earn the agency’s Top Safety Pick Award must earn Good ratings in the crash test categories, an Advanced or Superior rating in front crash prevention, and an Acceptable or Good rating for available headlights. The even more prestigious Top Safety Pick+ Award requires Acceptable or Good-rated headlights as standard equipment.
Not only do car safety ratings provide critical information to car shoppers, but they also motivate automakers to continue improving the safety of their vehicles. Learn more here:
What Are the Safest Cars?
Many cars today earn strong safety ratings from both the IIHS and NHTSA. Some of the safest cars available on the market today include affordable models like the Honda Accord and Mazda 3 as well as luxury offerings such as the Volvo S60 and Tesla Model 3. The safest SUVs consist of a similar mix, with the Hyundai Palisade, Nissan Murano, Acura RDX, and Cadillac XT6 among the top performers.
Safest Cars for 2022:
Safest SUVs for 2022:
More on the safest vehicles available today:
What Car Safety Features Are Most Important?
Today, car safety involves more than just airbags and antilock brakes. Active safety features, which are now common on both mainstream and luxury vehicles, can help prevent accidents. Other advanced features such as automatic park assist help ease the burden of everyday driving tasks. Here are some of the most important car safety features to consider on your next vehicle:
Automatic emergency braking applies the brakes automatically when it senses a risk of a crash. This braking can help either avoid a crash altogether or mitigate its effects. We’re fans of this feature, also sometimes known as AEB, because it can lessen the impact of collisions or eliminate them in some cases.
Blind-spot monitoring detects the presence of other vehicles the driver may not see in adjacent lanes. If there’s a car in the driver’s blind spot while they are trying to change lanes, the system provides an audible and/or visual warning. Upgraded systems can also manipulate the steering and brakes to avoid a crash. With the rise of SUVs and the large blind spots many models have, blind-spot monitoring can be helpful for drivers who actually pay attention to it.
Lane departure warning and lane keep assist help the driver keep the car in its designated lane. Lane departure warning alerts drivers when they have wandered into another lane, usually with a beep or vibration of the steering wheel, while lane keep assist uses steering corrections and braking inputs to prevent the car from crossing into the other lane.
Adaptive cruise control maintains a certain speed set by the driver while keeping the vehicle at a set following distance from the vehicle ahead. Think of this feature’s potential to help in stop-and-go traffic, and you’ll understand how the best versions of this tech can help drivers.
Adaptive headlights respond to changing road conditions to improve the driver’s visibility. Curve-adaptive headlights pivot based on the vehicle’s direction of travel, while automatic high-beams automatically switch between low- and high-beams in the presence of traffic to avoid dazzling other drivers.
Automatic park assist controls steering, accelerator, and braking inputs to navigate a car into a parallel or perpendicular parking space. A related feature is remote park assist, which will pull the car into and out of a parking spot with the driver standing outside the vehicle and pressing a button on the key fob. Some of these features can detect a space quickly, making this an actual convenience. Others, however, take too long and are more party tricks than practical additions.
Hill descent control navigates a vehicle down a slope without the need for the driver to apply the brakes. It works with the vehicle’s traction control and antilock braking systems to reduce tire slip and achieve a slow and controlled descent.
Which Cars Have Self-Driving Features?
The most advanced driver assist system available today is GM’s Super Cruise, but it still requires a driver to pay attention to the road at all times. The tech automatically steers, accelerates, and brakes within a lane on many miles of highways across the U.S. Other advanced semi-autonomous driving systems includes Ford’s BlueCruise, Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot, and Tesla’s Autopilot.
Car Seat Safety: Which Vehicles Have the Best LATCH Ratings?
Attaching a car seat isn’t always easy. That’s why the IIHS rates vehicles on the ease of use of their LATCH system, which consists of attachment hardware for child restraints. LATCH systems are rated Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor based on criteria such as how easy it is to find the anchors, how much force is required to attach to the anchors, and the presence of other hardware that can be confused for anchors.
The following 2022 model-year cars and SUVs score Good ratings in the LATCH evaluation while also earning Top Safety Pick+ status.