Selecting a safer vehicle easier than before

I recently toured the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Virginia. I returned with great information to share with our readers.

Today’s article will discuss buying a safer vehicle. Later articles will cover keeping children safe, teen drivers, crash avoidance technologies and other safety subjects. The Franklin County Traffic Safety Board thanks the IIHS for providing this important safety information.

Selecting a safer vehicle is a lot easier than it used to be. Most new cars, minivans, pickups and SUVs earn good ratings in most crash tests conducted by the IIHS, at its Ruckersville facility, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some models still need improvement for rollover crashes, but manufacturers are improving crashworthiness of car roofs thanks to IIHS testing.

When considering purchase of a new vehicle, remember vehicle size and weight matter. Smaller, lighter vehicles generally offer less protection than larger, heavier ones. There is less structure to absorb crash energy, so deaths and injuries are more likely. If safety is a major consideration, and it should be, pass up very small, light vehicles.

A crashworthy design reduces death and injury risk. Good structure means a strong occupant compartment, crumple zones to absorb the force of a serious crash, side structure to manage the force of a striking vehicle or struck object and a strong roof that won’t collapse in a rollover. Safety belts keep people in their seats and spread crash forces across the upper body’s stronger bony parts. Air bags protect people from hitting things inside the vehicle or objects outside it.

A good place to start your research is with vehicle ratings at Each year IIHS rates new models based on how well they protect people in front, side, rollover and rear crashes. They also rate the performance of front crash prevention systems, including forward collision warning and automatic braking.

To earn a Top Safety Pick + award, models must achieve good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. They must also receive a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test, and a basic, advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention. You should look for vehicles that earn IIHS Top Safety Pick + or Top Safety Pick at, plus at least four of five stars from NHTSA at

Buying a used vehicle? Here are some things from the IIHS to help assess the crashworthiness of older models.

Frontal crashworthiness

Look for good ratings in frontal tests. Most newer models earn top marks for frontal crashworthiness. Drivers of vehicles rated “good” in the IIHS test are about 46 percent less likely to die in a serious frontal crash than drivers in poor-rated vehicles.

Side crashworthiness

Choose a vehicle with good side ratings plus side air bags that protect your head. IIHS and NHTSA rate models based on tests that simulate front-into-side crashes. Drivers of vehicles with good ratings in the IIHS side barrier test are 70 percent less likely to die in a driver-side crash compared with drivers in vehicles rated poor. Studies of real-world crashes indicate that side air bags substantially reduce fatality risk. The majority of 2008 and later models have side airbags as standard equipment.

Roof strength

Look for a strong roof. IIHS rates roof strength to help consumers pick vehicles with roofs that will hold up in a rollover crash. Stronger roofs crush less. Ratings began with 2008-09 models.

Head restraints

Pick a model with a good seat-head restraint rating to reduce whiplash injuries in a rear-end collision. Vehicles with good seat-head restraint combinations have 15 percent fewer insurance claims for neck injuries than vehicles with poor ratings. Remember to adjust the head restraint to correctly fit behind your head.

Electronic stability control

Buy a vehicle with ESC. It is standard equipment on 2012 and later models, and also available on many earlier ones. ESC engages automatically to help drivers maintain control on curves and slippery roads. ESC lowers the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about half and the risk of a fatal rollover by as much as 80 percent.

Watch for future articles regarding vehicle safety. Again, thanks to the IIHS for providing this valuable safety information.