Why way fewer vehicles will score top IIHS crash-test scores next year

The IIHS has released tougher criteria for Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus awards for 2020 -- and it won't be easy for automakers.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
2 min read
2020 Top Safety Pick

Good luck, automakers, but the changes are in the name of safety.


Expect way fewer vehicles to go home to their respective automakers with Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus awards next year. The Insurance Institute for Highway safety revealed its updated criteria for 2020 on Wednesday, and as someone who reads through these ratings often, I can tell they're going to be tricky for automakers.

Let's start with the highest award, the Top Safety Pick Plus. Right now, a vehicle must score a Good rating in all crash tests, including the passenger-side small overlap front test. No changes there.

For Top Safety Pick awards, however, vehicles will no longer get by with an Acceptable rating in the passenger-side test. Now, a Good rating in all six crash tests will be required for a Top Safety Pick award -- mirroring the requirements for a Top Safety Pick Plus.

Moving along with the Top Safety Pick Plus criteria, the IIHS will require vehicles to not only include frontal-crash prevention tech in the vehicle-to-vehicle category, but also in the vehicle-to-pedestrian category. Right now, vehicle-to-vehicle is the only requirement. Both technologies will need to earn an Advanced or higher rating. That will be tougher for automakers to score, as much research has shown pedestrian-detection systems hardly work as advertised today.

Finally, the hardest part. To win a Top Safety Pick Plus, a vehicle must make Good or Acceptable headlights standard equipment. No more of this game where one trim offers Good or Acceptable headlights, so it earns the top award. Nope, not anymore. It's standard equipment or bust. Today, the IIHS requires Good headlights to be offered for the top award. In some reprieve, at least standard Acceptable lights will make the cut.

Check out the gory details in Honda's IIHS crash-tested HR-V

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The vast majority of Top Safety Pick Plus awards are due to Good or Acceptable headlights simply made available, often on the most expensive trim levels. This is where we'll see the IIHS truly challenge automakers, and don't expect results overnight.

"Decent headlights should be a given, and we hope this change to our criteria will push manufacturers to make them standard across their lineups," IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby said of the changes.

Back to the lesser Top Safety Pick, winners will also need to meet the same requirements in the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian segments. They won't need to make Good or Acceptable headlights standard, however, they can still be optional.

Prepare for a thinning of the herd with these new requirements.

Watch this: New safety tech could mean better crash survival rates