Although IIHS's standards keep getting tougher each year, Lund says automakers are stepping up and making safety adjustments to a vehicle's structure and equipment list accordingly. The highly-rated headlights, for example, do not come standard on base models and many vehicles lack crash avoidance technology.
IIHS strengthened the criteria for the Top Safety Pick+ award for 2018 to require headlights to earn a "good" rating - an "acceptable" rating was previously enough to notch the "plus" award - and good or acceptable passenger-side protection in the small overlap front crash, which replicates a crash involving just the front corner of a vehicle.
This year, 62 vehicle models earned the institute's top safety pick award. In contrast, headlights weren't factored in for 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK, and an acceptable headlight rating was enough to bump a 2017 award victor into "plus" territory.
"Cars are safer now than they ever have been", Lund believes with even more improvements in crash test performance and headlights, vehicles will be even safer down the road.
The first official passenger-side ratings were released in October, following research tests past year. "The difference between a headlamp that rates as good as far as how far down the road you can see and one that we rate as poor, it literally is night and day and we think it's important that manufacturers improve how lamps light up the road because the most serious crashes happen at night".
The Institute's headlight ratings also are relatively new, with the first ones being released in March 2016.
The 15 TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners include four small cars, three midsize cars, five large luxury cars, two midsize nonluxury SUVs and one midsize luxury SUV. The vehicles must also meet the previous requirements of scoring good in other crash tests and earning an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.
Two automakers make up much of the list. It's a drop from past year - and the new crash tests are not the only reason why.
"The improvements in occupant protection have been unbelievable over the past decades", says Lund.
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