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Automakers aim to make cars, trucks, and SUVs safer each year. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is responsible for that in some ways, creating crashworthiness tests to ensure drivers and pedestrians are safer on the road. Each year, the IIHS updates its testing to address ongoing issues on the roadways. The 2023 test only strengthens the requirements to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick Award, which resulted in fewer winners.

Only only 48 models qualified for the IIHS Top Safety Pick award

For 2023, the IIHS updated its criteria for vehicles to win the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus awards. The press release states that the group demands better side crash and pedestrian crash protection systems in all vehicles. It also hopes to eliminate headlights that received poor grades during testing, making night driving more dangerous for drivers and pedestrians.

Due to the changes, only 48 vehicles qualified for an award this year. Only 28 cars, trucks, and SUVs earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus award, and only 20 earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick award. Upon announcing the changes for 2022, 101 vehicles qualified, and 65 of those earned the Top Safety Pick Plus award.

“The number of winners is smaller this year because we’re challenging automakers to build on the safety gains they’ve already achieved.”

David Harkey | IIHS President

IIHS President David Harkey said, “These models are true standouts in crashworthiness and prevention.”

Toyota had the most IIHS Top Safety Pick award winners for 2023

One of the biggest challenges for automakers has been the updated IIHS side crash test from 2021. The new test was much more demanding on vehicles and tripped many longtime winners up. To qualify for the IIHS TSP award, cars had to earn an “acceptable” or “good” rating. To get the TSP+ award, the score needed to be “good.” Another small change is that roof strength, head restraint, and vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention were no longer included in the criteria for the awards. Most cars exceed industry standards thanks to modern crash testing, making these tests less relevant than in previous years.

At the time of publication, Toyota Motor Corp (Toyota and Lexus brands) has the most awards for 2023 and the most awards in each category. The automaker earned 15 awards total, with nine IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus awards and six Top Safety Pick awards. Honda Motor Co. had six Top Safety Pick Plus wins and two TSP awards between Honda and Acura. Mazda was just behind with six TSP awards.

There is one segment with more awards than any other, the midsize luxury sport utility vehicle category, with nine TSP+ awards. That is followed by the small SUV category, which gets four TSP+ awards and eight TSP awards.

More stringent testing means safer cars and fewer preventable fatalities

IIHS Top Safety Pick award crash testing a Nissan Altima
A 2016 Nissan Versa, left, is test crashed into a 2015 Nissan Tsuru | Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety continues to update award requirements and tests to make manufacturers respond with safety upgrades. Harkey was “confident that the number of winners will continue to grow throughout the year.”

Thanks to the updated tests, a vehicle with a “good” rating from the IIHS is 70% less likely to die in a left-side crash than a “poor” score. In addition to that, headlights have made a big difference in single-vehicle crashes. Vehicles with “good” or “acceptable” ratings in IIHS testing have 15-19% fewer single-vehicle crashes at night (compared to those with “poor” scores).

More changes are due for 2024, but the IIHS Top Safety Pick Awards for 2023 have just started. One impressive addition is the 2022-2023 Rivian R1T electric pickup truck earning the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus award.


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