Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

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IIHS crash test hall

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a U.S. nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers, established in 1959 and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. It works to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes, and the rate of injuries and amount of property damage in the crashes that still occur. It carries out research and produces ratings for popular passenger vehicles as well as for certain consumer products such as child car booster seats. It also conducts research on road design and traffic regulations, and has been involved in promoting policy decisions.[1]

Frontal crash tests[edit]

Moderate overlap frontal test[edit]

Frontal offset crash test of a Hyundai Tucson
The 2007 Ford Edge passed this test with the Institute's highest rating, "Good". The tested Edge is displayed at the Institute's headquarters as an example of a standout performer in a frontal offset crash.

The Institute's front crash test differs from that of the U.S. government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in that its tests are offset. This test exposes 40% of the front of the vehicle to an impact with a deformable barrier at approximately 40 mph (65 km/h). Because only 40% of the vehicle's front must stand the impact, it shows the structural strength better[citation needed] than the NHTSA's full-width testing does. The IIHS began this crash test in January 1995.[2]

The 1997 Pontiac Trans Sport is one of the poorest performers the Institute has subjected to this test, due to the significant crumpling of the passenger compartment, which could lead to severe injuries or perhaps a fatality for the occupant. The foot was broken off at the ankle, even though the dummy used had a metal bone leg. The breakage was caused by strong forces. The tested Trans Sport is also displayed at the Institute's headquarters as an example of an exceptionally poor performer.

Many real-life frontal impacts are offset.[citation needed] However, the NHTSA's full frontal crash tests result in the occupant compartment going through greater deceleration. The full frontal crash test is more suitable for evaluating restraint systems such as seat belts and airbags.

The IIHS and NHTSA test results can differ; for example, the NHTSA gave the Chevrolet Venture (also marketed as the Oldsmobile Silhouette and Pontiac Montana/TransSport) 4/5 stars (with 5 stars being the best and 1 star the worst), but the IIHS rated it "Poor" for its poor structural integrity which becomes apparent in the offset crash test. This minivan was one of the poorest performers since the offset frontal crash tests were begun in 1995. The same applies for the 1997–2003 Ford F-150.

An analysis by the IIHS found that a driver of a vehicle rated "Good" is 46% less likely to die in a frontal crash, compared with a driver in a "Poor" rated vehicle. A 33% reduction was found for drivers in an "Acceptable" or "Marginal" rated vehicle.

The IIHS evaluates six individual categories, assigning each a "Good", "Acceptable", "Marginal", or "Poor" rating before determining the vehicle's overall frontal impact rating. [3]

  • It is important to note, as with the NHTSA's frontal impact test, vehicles across different weight categories may not be directly compared. This is because the heavier vehicle is generally considered to have an advantage if it encounters a lighter vehicle or is involved in a single-vehicle crash. The IIHS demonstrated this by crashing three midsize sedans with three smaller "Good" rated minicars. All three minicars were rated "Poor" in these special offset head-on car-to-car tests, while the midsize cars rated "Good" or "Acceptable".[4]

50th Anniversary[edit]

Crash-tested 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air

In 2009, the IIHS celebrated its 50th anniversary and tested a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air crashing head-on, 40% offset with a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu at 40 mph. The Bel Air's occupant compartment was extensively damaged by the crash. Coupled with the car's lack of modern safety features such as airbags and seat belts, this resulted in the crash test dummy in the Bel Air recording forces that would have probably caused fatal injuries to a real driver. This car performed far worse than the 2nd generation GM minivans that were formerly the worst performers of all time[citation needed] in the IIHS offset test. The Malibu's occupant compartment remained intact and advanced safety equipment protected the driver from potentially serious injury. The Malibu's crash test dummy recorded forces that would produce only a minor foot injury to a real driver.

Small overlap frontal test[edit]

On August 14, 2012, IIHS released the first results for a second, more demanding frontal offset test. The new test, which is used in addition to the 40% offset test introduced in 1995, subjects only 25% of the front end of the vehicle to a 40 mph impact. The new test is far more demanding on the vehicle structure than the 40% offset test. In the first round of test, composed of 11 midsized luxury and near-luxury vehicles, most vehicles did poorly; only three vehicles received "good" or "acceptable" ratings.[5]

The rating system is similar to the 40% offset, but has some key differences: hip/thigh and lower leg/foot ratings replace individual ratings for each leg and foot, and full score cannot be attained without deployment of front and side curtain airbags (due to the severe side movement often resulting from this test).[6]

A Medical College of Wisconsin study found small-overlap collisions result in increased head, chest, spine, hip, and pelvis injuries. This sort of collision is common on two-lane roads with two-way traffic where a center median is absent. Single vehicle crashes (into a tree or a pole) account for 40 percent of small-overlap crashes.[7] According to the IIHS, 25% of frontal crash deaths are due to small overlap crashes, with the outer front wheel first to receive the impact forces rather than the more central crash absorbing structure.[8]

The IIHS has since tested family cars,[9] compact cars,[10][11] minicars,[12] small[13] and midsized[14][15] SUVs, minivans,[16] muscle cars[17] and large pickup trucks[18] through the small-overlap test.

On November 20, 2014, the IIHS released footage of four recently tested minivans (two were corporate twins) subjected to this test. One minivan, the 2015 Nissan Quest, was one of the worst ever performers in this test. The occupant compartment collapsed badly, requiring the IIHS to cut out the driver's seat and pry the driver's legs free with a crowbar. The forces on the dummy's left leg were so strong that it would have taken luck for a real human experiencing such a crash to ever walk normally again. This has not been the case for any of the other tested vehicles. It received a "poor" rating for its performance.[16]

The corporate twins the 2015 Chrysler Town and Country and the 2015 Dodge Grand Caravan also fared poorly. The occupant compartment collapsed badly, though not nearly as badly as in the Quest. Forces were so strong that the parking brake pedal was actually forced inside the dummy's shin. This was the area that received the highest injury measures. These twins also received a "poor" rating.[16] Reportedly, the IIHS is also giving the now discontinued Volkswagen Routan a "Poor" Rating due to the fact that it was based upon the same platform as the two Minivans mentioned above, and shares a crash structure with the two, although the IIHS has not tested the Routan.[19]

In the 2015 Toyota Sienna, the occupant compartment did collapse fairly extensively, but unlike the other three minivans, it afforded a low risk of any significant injuries to the driver in this test. It received an "acceptable" rating.[16]

The 2014 Honda Odyssey, which carried over for the 2015 year, had been tested earlier. It received a "Good" rating in this test, and is one of two minivans to receive a good rating. The other is the 2015 Kia Sedona.[16][20]

Side crash test[edit]

Side impact crash test of a Mitsubishi Lancer

Compared to the NHTSA test rig, which simulates the impact from the front end of a passenger car, the taller IIHS test rig simulates the impact of an sport utility vehicle or Pickup truck (approximately a quarter of all new cars sold) into the side of the vehicle being tested. This is a very demanding test of both the vehicle's structural integrity and its side airbag systems, if any. (Seat belts play a less important role in side crashes on the impacted side of the vehicle.) While most new vehicles achieve 4–5 stars from the NHTSA (where head injuries are not part of the rating), many do not score well in the IIHS side impact test.

The IIHS assigns one of the same "Good", "Acceptable", "Marginal", or "Poor" ratings to nine categories before deciding the vehicle's overall side impact score.

IIHS began conducting vehicles tests in 2003. IIHS findings show a driver in a vehicle with a "Good" score is 70% less likely to die in a left-side crash than a driver in a vehicle rated "Poor". A 64% reduction was found for drivers in "Acceptable" rated vehicles and a 49% reduction in vehicles rated "Marginal".

Head restraint evaluation[edit]

This tests the vehicle's driver seat to determine effectiveness of the head restraints.[21] The driver's seat is placed on a sled to mimic rear-end collisions at 20 mph. Rear-end collisions at low to moderate speeds typically do not result in serious injuries but they are common.[22] In 2005 the IIHS estimated 25% of medical costs were related to whiplash injuries.

Roof strength test[edit]

Roof strength test of a Kia Sportage

In the United States rollovers accounted for nearly 25% of passenger vehicle fatalities. Features such as electronic stability control are proven to significantly reduce rollovers and lane departure warning systems may also help. Rollover sensing side curtain airbags also help to minimize injuries in the event of a rollover.[23] In March 2009, the IIHS began testing the roof strength of vehicles. Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda Element, and Jeep Patriot received Good rating for the roof strength. Kia Sportage received poor rating. Volkswagen Tiguan has the strongest roof among all small SUVs and Kia Sportage has the weakest roof among them.

Frontal collision avoidance evaluation[edit]

A maximum of 6 points are awarded. The points are awarded if the front crash prevention system meets government criteria, and whether it can reduce the speed or avoid the crash at both 12 and 25 mph (20-40 km/h). Vehicles that earn one point qualifies as a "basic" rating, while 2 to 4 points means the vehicle earns an "advanced" rating. A "superior" rating is given only if the vehicle earns 5 to 6 points on that test.[24]

Headlight evaluation[edit]

In March 2016 the IIHS released ratings for headlight performance. Their first test involved family cars, and most earned marginal or poor ratings. Only one vehicle, the Toyota Prius V, earned a good rating when equipped with specific headlights.[25] The Institute evaluated headlights for small SUVs 4 months later, and none of the vehicles tested earn a good rating.[26] On October 2016, they released ratings for pickup trucks, and the Honda Ridgeline was the only pickup to earn a good rating on the headlights test.[27]


The Top Safety Pick is an annual award to the best-performing cars of the year. To receive a Top Safety Pick, the vehicle must receive "Good" overall marks in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and seat head restraint tests, regardless of their rating in the small overlap test.

The Top Safety Pick+ award is given to vehicles that receive good rating in at least 4 of 5 tests and a rating of acceptable or good in the fifth test.

Past winners from 2006-2013 can be found on the IIHS web site.[28]


For 2014 model year vehicles in order to receive the Top Safety Pick vehicles must be rated "Good" in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests and also be rated either "Good" or "Acceptable" in the small overlap front test. To receive the Top Safety Pick+ award the front crash prevention system must be at least "basic" and the Top Safety Pick criteria must also be met .[29]


For 2015 model year vehicles in order to receive the Top Safety Pick vehicles must be rated "Good" in the moderate overlap, side, roof strength and head restraint tests and also must have no less than an "Acceptable" rating in the small overlap frontal test. To receive the Top Safety Pick+ award the front crash prevention system must be at least "Advanced" or "Superior" and the Top Safety Pick standards must also be met.[30]


For 2016 model year vehicles in order to receive the Top Safety Pick vehicles must be rated "Good" in the moderate overlap, side, roof strength and head restraint tests as well as a "basic" rating for the front crash prevention system. To receive the Top Safety Pick+ award the front crash prevention system must be "Advanced or "Superior" and the Top Safety Pick standards must also be met.


For 2017 model year vehicles in order to receive the Top Safety Pick vehicles must be rated "Good" in the moderate overlap, side, roof strength and head restraint tests as well as a "advanced" or "superior" rating for the front crash prevention system. To receive the Top Safety Pick+ award the front crash prevention system must be "Advanced or "Superior" as well as a good or acceptable headlight rating and the Top Safety Pick standards must also be met.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Regulatory documents". Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  2. ^ "Frontal crash tests". Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  3. ^ Weberillustrations, Bob. "". Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  4. ^ "". 2009-04-14. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  5. ^ "IIHS raises the bar with new crash test". 2012-08-14. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  6. ^ "". 2012-08-14. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  7. ^ "New car crash test promises to make a big safety impact". 2012-08-14. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  8. ^ "Honda, Volvo models get high marks in new overlap crash tests". 2013-03-07. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  9. ^ "Family cars trump luxury models in new crash test". 2012-12-20. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  10. ^ "Small overlap front test challenges small cars". 2013-08-08. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  11. ^ "Small car ratings vary in small overlap test". 2014-07-30. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  12. ^ "Minicars fall short in tough frontal crash test". 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  13. ^ "Redesigned Subaru Forester aces tough new crash test". 2013-05-16. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  14. ^ "Small overlap test stymies midsize SUVs". 2014-04-08. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  15. ^ "Midsize SUVs' ratings are mixed". 2015-05-12. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  16. ^ a b c d e
  17. ^ "Muscle cars fall short of safety awards". 2016-05-24. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  18. ^ "Pickups struggle with small overlap test". 2016-04-12. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  19. ^ Chris Bruce Nov 21st 2014 at 3:45PM (2014-11-21). "Chrysler, Nissan minivans earn 'dire' crash test results, says IIHS [w/video". Autoblog. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  20. ^ "71 vehicles earn 2015 honors from". IIHS. 2014-12-23. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  21. ^ "". Retrieved 2014-05-27. 
  22. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2011-11-08. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  23. ^ "". 2009-03-24. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  24. ^ "Front crash prevention tests". Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  25. ^ "New IIHS ratings show most headlights are lacking". 2016-03-30. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  26. ^ "Most small SUV headlights rate poor". 2016-07-12. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  27. ^ "Pickups fall short in headlight testing". 2016-10-25. Retrieved 2017-10-08. 
  28. ^ archives
  29. ^
  30. ^ "IIHS: A Surge in Top Safety Pick Awards For 2015". AutoTrends. 1 January 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 

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