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America has a long and rich history for automobiles — and this legacy continues today. There are excellent vehicles from domestic automakers, with many at the forefront of vehicle technology. However, for car safety, it’s a different story. See if American cars are less safe than vehicles from foreign brands — with the IIHS safety awards providing some answers. 

Out of 51 IIHS safety awards, only 5 cars are American

Front angle view of 2023 Ford Explorer, showing if American cars are less safe than vehicles from foreign brands
2023 Ford Explorer | Ford

Based on the recent 2023 safety awards from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), American cars are less safe than models from foreign brands. IIHS gives two different awards for excellent safety: Top Safety Pick+ and the second-tier Top Safety Pick.

And by an overwhelming margin, the awards went to foreign car brands. As of this writing, IIHS has honored 51 models with 2023 awards. However, only five of the vehicles are from American car brands. This means that less than 10% of the awards are for domestic vehicles. 

Here is the breakdown of 2023 IIHS safety awards by country:

  1. Japan: 38
  2. United States: 5
  3. South Korea: 4
  4. Germany: 2
  5. Sweden: 2

Japanese automakers have the safest cars

Front angle view of 2023 Toyota Camry, showing if American cars are less safe than vehicles from foreign brands
2023 Toyota Camry | Toyota

As you can see, most of the IIHS awards are from Japanese car brands. Toyota has the most, with 10 awards. Its Lexus luxury division earned five awards as well. Other Japanese automakers honored by IIHS include Honda, Acura, Subaru, Nissan, and Infiniti.

Also, all of the South Korean brands that sell models in the U.S. earned IIHS awards. This includes Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis. The German brands honored are Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. Also, the representative from Sweden is Volvo.

What American vehicles earned an IIHS award?

American automakers have made the shift toward EVs in recent years — and this strength shows with the models honored by IIHS. Three of the five IIHS safety awards are for electric vehicles. This includes the 2023 Tesla Model Y crossover SUV, the 2023 Rivian R1T pickup truck, and the 2023 Rivian R1S electric SUV. All three of these EVs earned the top-tier Top Safety Pick+ award.

The other American models with IIHS honors are the 2023 Ford Explorer SUV and the 2023 Lincoln Nautilus luxury SUV. These two models received the second-tier Top Safety Pick award.

With so few IIHS awards for domestic models, it begs the question, why are American cars less safe than vehicles from foreign brands? Part of it is likely due to domestic automakers giving American consumers what they want: power, size, and comfort. As a result, American brands build cars that prioritize these things over safety.

Designing, engineering, and building a car typically involves some sort of sacrifice. Prioritizing one element of a car means reducing the effectiveness of another area. While many American vehicles are big and powerful, when it comes to safety, they are not as good as foreign car brands.

Conversely, Japanese automakers like Toyota and Honda place a greater priority on safety (as well as reliability), which usually means sacrificing performance and driving dynamics. It’s a trade-off. So, in the end, foreign cars, particularly those from Japan, are safer than ones from America.

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