Safety is a large consideration when purchasing a new car. Each year the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performs front, side, and rear crash tests on a number of new models.

The front crash test simulates a 40 mph crash. About half of the 30,000 highway deaths that occur in the United States each year are from frontal crashes. In the frontal offset crash test, the IIHS evaluates models on three criteria – structural performance, injury measures, and dummy kinematics. The structural performance measures the amount and pattern of intrusion into the occupant compartment from the structural parts of the front of the car, including movement from the instrument panel, steering wheel, and footwell. The injury measure criteria determines the likelihood that a driver would sustain injury to various parts of his body. Finally, the dummy kinematics aspect judges the risk of injury from the vehicle’s restraint system.

The side impact test can be especially important in larger vehicles like SUVs or minivans, which are prone to rollover if not equipped with an electronic stability control device. In the side impact test, the IIHS tests for driver and passenger injury measures, head protection, and structural performance. The driver and passenger injury measure uses two crash test dummies that record injury to the head, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, and femur. The head protection test supplements the injury number by evaluating damage to the dummy’s head during the crash. The structural figure is based on a measurement indicating the level of intrusion into the occupant compartment from the doors and frame of the car.

The rear crash test tests for whiplash. Serious injury can be sustained in a rear impact crash as the head and neck snap forward and then back against the headrest. If the headrest is not in the proper position or fails to provide proper support, spinal damage is a possibility.

In each category, the IIHS rates vehicles as good, acceptable, marginal, or poor. Vehicles that score “good” in each category and also offer electronic stability control are given the “Top Safety Pick” award by the IIHS. To see how your vehicle rated, click here. The following vehicles received this award this year.

Large Cars

  • Audi A6
  • Cadillac CTS
  • Ford Taurus
  • Mercury Sable
  • Volvo S80

Midsize Cars

  • Audi A3
  • Audi A4
  • Honda Accord 4-door
  • Saab 9-3
  • Subaru Legacy

Midsize Convertibles

  • Saab 9-3
  • Volvo C70

Small Cars

  • Subaru Impreza

Minivans

  • Honda Odyssey
  • Hyundai Entourage
  • Kia Sedona

Midsize SUVs

  • Acura MDX
  • Acura RDX
  • BMW X3
  • BMW X5
  • Ford Edge
  • Ford Taurus X
  • Honda Pilot
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Hyundai Veracruz
  • Infiniti EX35
  • Lincoln MKX
  • Mercedes M Class
  • Nissan Murano
  • Saturn VUE
  • Subaru Tribeca
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Volvo XC90

Small SUVs

  • Honda CR-V
  • Honda Element
  • Subaru Forester

Large Pickup

  • Toyota Tundra