If you're car shopping, you should strive to put safety at the top of the list of important criteria to look for when selecting your next vehicle. More than styling and performance (yes, even we admit this), the safety of your vehicle is vital to protect you and anyone your transport. You can even argue it's more important than reliability, comfort, and technology.

2020 ford explorer IIHS
The 2020 Ford Explorer missed top scores by a hair due to "acceptable" in the Small overlap front: driver-side category. (image: IIHS)

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent testing body that even surpasses the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that conducts crash tests. The IIHS is more comprehensive and details their studies to a greater degree. Now, they've increased their standards for vehicles to qualify for the coveted Top Safety Pick +, their highest rating.

s60 headlights
Volvo reworked their headlights after the "poor" and "marginal" scores. For 2019, they're "good".

The Top Safety Pick + rating is tough to win. Vehicles have to score "good" in Crashworthiness (the top score in each category, followed by "acceptable", "marginal", and "poor"). Then in the category of Crash Avoidance & Mitigation, vehicles can score "superior", "advanced", or "basic". For 2020 vehicles, the IIHS increased the standards in the following areas:

  • Front crash prevention technology must earn "advanced" for both the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian areas. will have to be available. Previously, only the vehicle-to-vehicle rating was required.
  • Front crash prevention requirements will also be scored to earn the 2nd-tier Top Safety Pick.
  • Available headlights must score at least good or acceptable for the Top Safety Pick (as standard equipment not required). 
  • Top Safety Pick + and Top Safety Pick must score "good" in all Crashworthiness categories. The very stringent "passenger-side small front overlap test" must now have the same "good" score as the driver's side test, not something manufacturers had to adhere to before (2019 only required "acceptable").
  • All Top Safety Pick + winners must earn "good" or "acceptable" headlights (as available equipment, at least).

These are important changes that should make waves in the automotive industry. Manufacturers pay rapt attention to the IIHS criteria since their scores translate to increased or decreased sales, as a result. The upgrade in standards should motivate them to spend more money on crash avoidance tech, crash safety, and headlights. It also means pedestrian safety should increase, which is always a very good thing.

subaru legacy
The redesigned 2020 Subaru Legacy pretty much nailed scores and got the Top Safety Pick +.

This is the IIHS's brilliant way of holding car manfuacturers' feet to the fire to make driving (and now walking) safer. Though they can't just dial up the requirements to 10/10 for every category, they can slowly but surely ramp up requirements, which is what they are doing for 2020.