Top Safety Pick is Tougher Club to Join in 2010

December 26, 2009/Steve Tackett


It has just gotten a lot harder for a vehicle to be designated as a “Top Safety Pick” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
This time last year when the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released its list of “2009 Top Safety Picks,” a record 94 vehicles made the list.
Not so this year. So far only 27 have made this year’s list of the “2010 Top Safety Picks.” That is because for the first time a good performance in a roof strength test (measuring rollover protection) is required. A new federal standard for stronger roofs does not go into effect until September 2012 and must be completed by the 2017 model year.
This is only the second time that the Institute has tightened its criteria since it started announcing top picks in 2005. The first time was to add electronic stability control to the criteria.
To earn this 2010 award, a vehicle must get the top rating of Good in the insurance institute’s tests of front, side, rear and rollover protection; and it must have electronic stability control.
The insurance institute named winners in five categories: large cars, midsize cars, small cars, midsize SUVs and small SUVs.

Subaru had five winners (the Legacy, Outback, Impreza, Tribeca and Forester). Ford had two (Taurus and Lincoln MKS) and its subsidiary Volvo had four (S80, C30, XC60 and XC90). Volkswagen had four (Jetta sedan, Passat sedan, Golf 4-door, and Tiguan) and Audi had one (A3). Chrysler had four (Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger, Journey, and Jeep Patriot with optional side thorax airbags).
Despite a seatbelt failure in the Volvo XC60, when the seatbelt detached from its anchor point during the side impact test, the insurance institute made it a Top Safety Pick, since Volvo is recalling the vehicles and fixing the problem.
The Honda Accord, which was a Top Safety Pick the previous two years, didn’t make it for 2010 because of roof strength. Toyota (including Lexus and Scion) didn’t have a single vehicle on the list this year, despite having 11 Top Picks for 2009.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the insurance institute tested every single 2010 model, including all Toyota models, and found them wanting. Many haven’t been tested yet. This is because the insurance institute can’t test every vehicle at the start of the model year, yet wants to get the information it has out in a timely fashion to consumers who are shopping for 2010 models.
So at the beginning of the year the institute asks automakers to recommend vehicles to be tested for the Top Picks awards. Automakers had to recommend vehicles to be tested and then reimburse the institute for the cars. (The institute usually buys the vehicles it tests, except when it is outside of the normal testing schedule, as in this case.)
Toyota said it did not recommend any vehicles because of the expense and poor economic conditions. The Toyota Camry was tested by the institute and just missed being a Top Safety Pick, but not because of roof strength. That got a Good rating. It was because its seats and head restraints, which are evaluated in the rear crash test, were rated Marginal.
The insurance institute has conducted roof strength tests on 52 vehicles so far this year, most recently on midsize cars. For a full list of Top Safety Picks and for the rollover ratings of the newly tested midsize cars, visit As more vehicles are tested throughout the coming year, some are likely to show up as Top Safety Picks. — Cheryl Jensen, Motor Matters

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009