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Before buying a new car, you’re going to want to check the car’s safety ratings. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to determine how safe a car is. Thanks to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), you can understand how safe a specific vehicle is. Here’s how you can find out your car’s safety ratings:  

What are the NHTSA and IIHS?

Action shot taken during the Institute's new side-impact crash test being conducted on the 2022 Subaru Outback SUV
2022 Subaru Outback Crash Test | IIHS

The NHTSA and IIHS are two safety-focused groups. The NHTSA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The NHTSA’s mission is to “save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement.” 

The agency releases recall notices for various reasons. A recall database from the NHTSA lets drivers search for their cars to see if any parts need repairing as part of a recall. The NHTSA also gives out car safety ratings every year.

Meanwhile, the IIHS is an independent agency that started in 1959. The nonprofit group provides educational material and best practices for safety to help reduce deaths and injuries from car accidents.

The IIHS issues annual car safety ratings for many of the most popular vehicles on the market. There are two awards cars can win: a Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+. Top Safety Pick models earn a ‘Good’ rating in each of the car safety ratings from crash tests. A Top Safety Pick+ is given to models that have ‘Acceptable’ or ‘Good’ headlights standard.

How do I check my car safety ratings?

It’s easy to find your car’s safety rating, reports CNET. You can check the NHTSA’s database for that agency’s rating by entering your car’s year, make, and model. From there, you can choose the specific configuration of your car. The NHTSA test for side pole, rollover, side barrier, and frontal crashworthiness. It also provides a downloadable technical report.

The IIHS’s independent tests are also easy to find. Simply enter your car’s make and model and select from a list of choices. After selecting your option, you can choose the year from a drop-down menu for full explanations and results of each test performed.

Which car safety features are most important?

Edmunds notes a few systems help a car meet the NHTSA’s car safety ratings standards. The agency recommends forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking/crash imminent braking, dynamic brake support/brake assist, and lane departure warnings to meet high standards.

Those systems do help with IIHS testing as well. However, the IIHS also rates front crash mitigation systems and headlights. The agency prefers increased visibility and better mitigation and often helps vehicles earn Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ ratings.

But overall, Edmunds points out that the most significant safety factor is the driver. Driving action or inaction is a crucial part of most crashes. Driving distracted or impaired can’t be overcome by car safety features.

What are the safest cars on the road?


US Roads Are Getting More Dangerous

More than 80 vehicles have received a Top Safety Pick+ car safety rating from the IIHS for 2022. They are spread out across 10 of the IIHS’s 12 categories: small cars, midsize cars, midsize luxury cars, large cars, large luxury cars, small SUVs, midsize SUVs, midsize luxury SUVs, large SUVs, and minivans.

Per the IIHS, some of the safest small cars are the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Subaru BRZ, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Golf R. The safest midsize cars include the Honda Accord, Kia K5, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry sedan.

Meanwhile, the safest midsize luxury cars include the Acura TLX, Lexus ES 350, Tesla Model 3,  and the Volvo S60. The safest large car is the Kia Stinger. The Audi A6, Genesis G80, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Volvo S90 are some of the safest large luxury cars. The safest SUVs include the Ford Bronco, Mazda CX-5, Toyota Corolla Cross, Hyundai Palisade, Volkswagen ID.4, Acura MDX, and the Audi Q5. 

The safest minivans rated by the IIHS are the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, and the Toyota Sienna. Many of these models also received five-star marks in car safety ratings from the NHTSA.