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A question car buyers don't ask often enough is, "Which cars are the safest?"  Most people have safety very low on their priority list when shopping for a vehicle.  This is unfortunate because it gives less incentive for auto-makers to add safety features and manufacture safer cars.  It is also unfortunate that there is much confusion about crash tests and safety features.  This guide will clarify some of these issues, and make some recommendations for safe vehicles in various categories.  Finally, there is no substitute for safe, defensive driving, and staying within the limits of your skills, your vehicle, and the conditions on the road.  Please drive safely.  Lives depend on it; motor vehicles are the #1 killer of kids and adults in age groups 1 to 34, causing more fatalites than many other causes combined.

Some automakers like to confuse the issue of which tests and features are important.  They may try to discredit tests where some of their vehicles do poorly, while endorsing the same test on models that performed well.  Others tout injury and fatality statistics.  While these may have an element of crashworthiness in them, they also have a large factor of driver profile that makes them less useful, especially when comparing vehicles from different classes.  Overall, you would like a vehicle that performs well in all crash tests, has a low rollover risk and a nice array of advanced safety features.  Vehicles with poor results in any test, those with injury/fatality ratings worse than most vehicles in their class, or those noted for a lack of advanced safety features should be avoided if safety is a priority.

Crash Tests and Rollover Ratings

All vehicles meet minimum government safety requirements and pass standard crash tests.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway safety (IIHS) also conduct additional tests, which can be used to compare the crashworthiness of vehicles over and above the minimum requirements.  In addition, the NHTSA has static and dynamic ratings for vehicle rollover risk.  These tests and comparisons are complementary; ideally a car should perform well in all of them.   Consumer Reports also has an excellent and vehicle safety ratings in their annual, April auto issues.

Accident Avoidance

Crashworthiness is very important for the situations where you cannot avoid a collision.  On the other hand, some characteristics of a vehicle may help you avoid a crash in the first place.  It may be hard to find good comparisons among vehicles for these features, and some are so subjective that it varies from driver to driver.  Things to consider:

Other Safety Features:

Links to Safety Information

For more details, please see our links to resources on vehicle safety:

Recommended Vehicles

Our recommendations are just a starting point.  There are many vehicles that may be almost as crashworthy as the highest rated choices in each category.  Some vehicles may even be safer than the top choices, but cannot be recommended because they simply have not been tested by the IIHS or NHTSA.  Obviously, we have not even driven many of these models, so please test drive thoroughly since many of these factors are subjective.  Our emphasis will be on crash tests and rollover ratings, since these are easily comparable among models within a class.  We also consider accident avoidance and safety features, particularly side impact airbags and electronic stability control systems (ESC).

While we recommend vehicles which received the highest ratings and stand above other models, there are many good options which we do not list.  Regarding crash tests, our general advice is to avoid vehicles that earned "Poor" or "Marginal" ratings in the IIHS offset and side impact tests.  Also, be wary of those getting "3-stars" or less in any of the NHTSA crash tests or rollover ratings.  Our logic is that manufacturers should be able to design vehicles that do well in these controlled tests that simulate the most common fatal crashes.  The test procedures are well known to manufacturers.  We have little confidence that vehicles which do poorly in these established tests will do any better in real-world crashes which may vary greatly.  In fact, vehicles that perform well in both the and crash tests have been shown to reduce the risk of fatal injury in the most common and severe types of real world crashes.  We also suggest that you carefully test the fit of head restraints for regular passengers, particularly if your vehicle received a "Marginal" or "Poor" rating in the new IIHS rear crash test.  Finally, avoid vehicles noted for poor handling, braking, or visibility, and pay careful attention to these factors when you test drive.  At minimum, we hope we have given consumers food for thought regarding safety, and that our links have provided more detailed information regarding safety comparisons.  According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (CDC) and SAFE KIDS USA, motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer for children and adults in age groups 1 to 34.  With a little research before buying a new vehicle or , you can easily reduce this risk.  Driving unimpaired and using seatbelts and child restraints is also essential for safety.

Have More Questions?

The information and links should answer many questions.  We would be very happy to try to answer any questions you may have regarding specific features or vehicles.  Please post them at our .


: Vehicle and Carseat Safety
Version 1.7, 1/1/2006.