Just as automakers annually make tweaks to their vehicles to make them better, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is implementing new, tougher benchmarks to earn the safety organization’s top rankings for 2020.
The group is adding three new caveats in order for automakers to get the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards starting next year. The changes focus on pedestrian crash prevention, crashworthiness ratings and headlights.
For 2020, good- or acceptable-rated headlights must be standard equipment on a vehicle to qualify for Top Safety Pick+, the highest award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Previously they only need to be available on the vehicle.
“As we do nearly every year, we’re making it a little tougher to earn our awards,” says IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. “We hope these changes will encourage automakers to stop equipping vehicles with inferior headlights and speed the adoption of technology that can help protect pedestrians.”
In addition, front crash prevention that earns at least an advanced rating in both the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations will have to be available. Previously, only the vehicle-to-vehicle rating was required.
The vehicle-to-pedestrian testing was added last year. vehicles through three different tests, each at two speeds — 12 and 25 mph. But 2020 will mark the first year when the organization factors the results into its awards criteria.
The tougher front crash prevention requirements will also apply to the second tier of awards, Top Safety Pick. Available good or acceptable headlights will be required for that award too, however, they won’t need to be standard.
Both awards will require good crashworthiness ratings across the board. That includes the passenger-side small overlap front test. For 2019, an acceptable rating in the passenger-side test was sufficient for a Top Safety Pick award.
Another change comes with when the winners find out what awards they’ve captured. The initial round of 2020 award winners will not be announced until early next year. Previously, the next year’s first winners were announced in November or December.
After introducing headlight evaluations in 2016, IIHS plans to make its headlight evaluations more rigorous. Starting for 2020, it will award the highest Top Safety Pick+ award only to vehicles whose good- or acceptable-rated headlights are included as standard equipment on all models.
“Decent headlights should be a given, and we hope this change to our criteria will push manufacturers to make them standard across their line-ups,” Zuby said.
That will remain the case for the Top Safety Pick award, but if last year’s results are any indication, the number of vehicles that win the top award may be hurt by the new benchmark. In 2019, just 171 of 465 headlight systems tested, or 37%, were rated good or acceptable.
IIHS isn’t alone in the change department. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has been mulling possibly changing how it determines its safety awards, which five stars being the top honor. However, it’s still only in the consideration stage.