The 15 Safest Vehicle Brands on the Market

Each year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) determines crashworthiness of new vehicles by conducting extensive tests. In the past, top safety picks were determined by their abilities to protect occupants from crashes. With modern technology, vehicles are now rated by how well they can prevent front crashes and how well they warn drivers or automatically brake to avoid or lessen front end collisions. Only vehicles that meet all safety requirements are eligible for the top safety picks. Vehicle categories are broken down by sizes, vehicle type and whether they are luxury vehicles or not. Three manufacturers stood out against other brands: Hyundai Motor Company with six cars winning the top category, Subaru with four vehicles and Toyota Motor Corporation with 10 vehicles winning the second category. For the most part, vehicles that were lighter and smaller offered less protection than larger and heavier vehicles.

Top Safety Picks

The IIHS is a nonprofit organization funded by various insurance agencies. The IIHS awards two levels of top safety picks, with the first being the highest. When determining picks, vehicles attain:


  • The second level when they receive good ratings in driver-side small and moderate overlap fronts, roof strength, side and head restraints. Front crash prevention requires superior or advanced ratings and the headlight rating must be good.
  • The first level by meeting all the requirements of the second level plus a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test on the passenger-side.

The following lists the top safety picks according to the 2018 IIHA report.

Top Safety Picks: Small Cars and Midsize Cars

2018 Kia Forte     2018 Subaru Legacy

2018 Kia Soul     2018 Subaru Outback

2018 Subaru Impreza     2018 Toyota Camry

2018 Subaru WRX

Top Safety Picks: Large Luxury Cars and Midsize SUVs

2018 BMW 5 series     2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

2018 Genesis G80      2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

2018 Genesis G90      2018 Lincoln Continental

Top Safety Picks: Midsize Luxury SUVs

2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class      2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC

How Safety Testing Is Conducted

To conduct safety tests, the IIHS sends a vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour into a metal barrier. The test is designed to mimic a motor vehicle striking a utility pole or tree. Only a portion of the vehicle’s front end actually hits the barrier, which results in accurately reflecting how the cabin structure in the car absorbs severe impact. Tests also include striking a machine into the sides to imitate an unexpected vehicle impact to the side panels.

Safety ratings are ranked as good, acceptable, marginal and poor with good being the highest rating. Front crash prevention, in the category of crash avoidance and mitigation, is rated as basic, advanced or superior, with superior being the highest rating. A basic rating disqualifies a vehicle from receiving a top safety pick.

How Safety Testing Has Changed

In previous years, only the driver’s side was tested for front overlap. After discovering that certain vehicle manufacturers were not putting enough attention into making the passenger sides of the cars safe, the IIHS added the test to their crash test checks. This updated requirement was used when testing the 2018 safety picks.

Selecting Vehicles Based on Top Safety Picks

If shopping for a new vehicle, only looking at the top 15 safety picks for the year may seem like a safe decision. However, there is more data to consider before choosing a vehicle. The vehicle ratings are based on total scores, so a vehicle that has high ratings in one category can also have minimally acceptable ratings in another. Rather than finding a vehicle with all the safest features, the car may have barely passable safety features overall.

Other things to consider when looking at top safety picks is that only a handful of models are actually tested each year. Vehicles that are tested may have optional features that are not included in the basic models. Without knowing what specific features were included in the test model, consumers are not likely to find the same exact models with all the safety features of the high rating models.

Not All Features Are Equal

When vehicles are tested for safety, only the front and sides are tested. Passengers in the back seats usually do not fare as well in real life. Airbags and other safety features are built into the fronts of vehicles. When selecting cars, consumers expect everyone in the vehicle to be safe, but there are no such guarantees. Look at every feature in the base model to determine if the vehicle really is as safe as the tests claim it to be.

Insurance Rates and Safety Features

Insurance companies base their rates on analysis of statistics and safety reports, how customers drive vehicles and past customer claims. Some insurance companies may offer discounts for driving safe vehicles, but there are no guarantees that the top safety picks will offer owners better insurance rates.

Make Sure to Include These Features

When it comes to vehicle safety, there re certain features that should be included, even if they are optional (meaning not included in the base model). The extra cost is worth the safety of the driver and all passengers. Good headlights should be included and observed before purchase. In poor visibility, properly working headlights offer better vision than mediocre lights, so consider upgrading the lights if needed. Air bags for rear passenger doors can make keep backseat passengers safer in accidents and are also good options to select.