Supported by insurers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, otherwise known as IIHS, is a nonprofit organization that studies ways to make vehicles safer.
More specifically, its mission is to reduce the losses caused by car crashes, including deaths, injuries and property damage.
The IIHS works hand-in-hand with the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). The latter carries out scientific studies of insurance data and publishes the results. These results alert the auto manufacturers as to what they can do to improve safety.
Both organizations are funded by auto insurers and insurance associations.
IIHS was founded in 1959 by three large insurance associations. It began by supporting highway safety efforts by others.
10 years later, IIHS was re-launched as an independent research organization. The first federal highway safety chief of the US, William Haddon Jr., M.D., became president of IIHS in 1969. He oversaw the transition and shifted focus in the highway safety field away from entirely crash prevention. His new methods utilized modern science to recognize a full range of options for reducing crash losses.
Thanks in part to the work of the Institute, the number of people killed on roads in the United States has fallen since 1979, even as the population and the number of miles driven have climbed. Much of this improvement is a result of safer vehicles, according to IIHS.
In 1992, IIHS opened a Vehicle Research Center in central Virginia. At this facility, IIHS performs the crash tests that form the foundation for how it rates different vehicles in terms of safety.
Vehicles are rated for safety based on performance in several tests, and the best performers carry the Top Safety Pick designation.
IIHS tests evaluate two aspects of safety: crashworthiness — how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash — and crash avoidance and mitigation — technology that can prevent a crash or lessen its severity.
The Institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal or poor, based on performance in five tests: moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.
In the area of crash avoidance and mitigation, vehicles with available front crash prevention systems are rated basic, advanced or superior, based on the type of system and performance in track tests. The organization also test headlights and rate them good, acceptable, marginal or poor.
To qualify for 2017 Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn good ratings in five crashworthiness tests — small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints — as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.
One vehicle that IIHS gives its highest rating to is the redesigned Honda CR-V.
Like the previous generation of the small SUV, the 2017 CR-V earned across-the-board good crashworthiness ratings. It is available with an optional front crash prevention system that earns a superior rating and acceptable-rated headlights, according to the Institute.
When equipped with front crash prevention, the CR-V avoided collisions in the Institute’s 12 mph and 25 mph track tests. The system also has a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) criteria.
The LED headlights that come with the CR-V’s Touring trim earn an acceptable rating. The halogen lights on the model’s other trim levels are rated marginal.
In addition to testing specific models, the IIHS also does general studies to help improve vehicle safety. The organization conducted a recent test on how well headlights assist the driver with road visibility.
“If you’re having trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame,” says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer.
Out of 31 midsize vehicles tested, only the Toyota Prius v has an available headlight system that earns a “good” rating.
“The results are dismal,” according to a statement by the IIHS.
Think buying a luxury vehicle equals better headlights? Think again. IIHS say that among the 44 headlight systems that earned a poor rating, the halogen lights on the BMW 3 Series are the worst, according to IIHS.
“A driver with those headlights would have to be going 35 mph or slower to stop in time for an obstacle in the travel lane,” according to an IIHS statement. “A better choice for the same car is a LED curve-adaptive system with high-beam assist, a combination that rates marginal.”
Many headlight problems could be fixed with better aim, according to IIHS.
“This is simple enough to adjust on many vehicles, but the burden shouldn’t fall on the consumer to figure out what the best aim is. Manufacturers need to pay attention to this issue to make sure headlights are aimed consistently and correctly at the factory,” explains Matthew Brumbelow, an IIHS senior engineer.
IIHS also uses its study results to offer guidance. Have a teenager? IIHS has some advice on the best new and used models for them.
Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, but they often end up with inexpensive vehicles that don’t offer adequate protection in a crash, according to the Institute. To help families find safer vehicles that fit within their budgets, IIHS began publishing a list of recommended used vehicles for teens in 2014.
The latest update includes 49 “best choices,” starting under $20,000, and 82 “good choices,” starting under $10,000.
For the first time, small overlap front crash protection was added into the mix. And the bar has been raised for the less expensive good choices as well, with better side and head restraint ratings required.
“Good crash protection is more affordable than ever, so there’s no need to skimp on safety when it comes to a vehicle for a young driver,” says Zuby.
Electronic stability control is an essential feature. This technology, which cuts single-vehicle fatal crash risk nearly in half, has been required on new vehicles since the 2012 model year. It helps a driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads. All listed vehicles have the feature standard, according to IIHS.
IIHS also advises that high horsepower and young drivers don’t mix. Teens may be tempted to test the limits of a powerful engine. Stick with the base engine.
Beyond those basics, parents should seek out a vehicle with the highest crash test ratings they can afford.
In many crashes, the windshield is damaged. Does it stay intact and help keep occupants in the vehicle? This glass plays an important structural role in your car, especially in the event of a vehicle rollover.
Glass.com® operations manager, Daniel Snow, and Glass.com blogger, Jenna Reed, recently accompanied The Auto Glass Safety Council on a tour of the IIHS’ Virginia facility to discuss the importance of windshields with IIHS officials and see some of the testings in person. It’s clear that IIHS works hard to help keep drivers safer on the road.
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