Who Decides the Safest Cars of the Year?

Car crashes are one of the leading causes of early death, but what car you drive makes a huge difference in the event of an emergency.

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A safe car actually protects the people inside. It will stay stable in emergency conditions, maybe even helping its driver regain control and stay in the right lane. In an accident, it will help cushion the driver and passengers, absorbing the force of the impact.

Cars these days are getting better and better at keeping drivers and passengers safe, both through active safety technology and better design.

You might wonder, who decides if a car is safe? It’s an important question if you’re in the process of buying or leasing a new car.

In fact, there are two main organizations in the US that test cars for safety and give out rankings. This information is easily available to the public, for those who know what to look for. With a little research, you can find the safest cars of 2019, no matter what type of vehicle you’re looking for.

Who tests cars for safety?

It’s impossible to tell how safe a car is just by looking at it. For the average person, even reading a technical description won’t give much sense of how safe or reliable it actually is.

Car companies naturally will always claim that their car is the safest. If you want a more balanced perspective, two separate third-party organizations exist to provide unbiased, scientific evaluations of auto safety.

These are the National Highway Traffic Safety Association and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Neither group tests every car on the market. They go for the most popular cars, brand-new models or vehicles that have been substantially redesigned that year. Between the two of them, most makes and models that you will probably consider will be covered.

car driving in city

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Association

The NHTSA is a government organization. They test between 90 and 150 vehicles every year, including four crash tests meant to simulate the most common accidents. These are:

  • Head-on collision at 35mph into a solid barrier
  • Angled collision at 20mph into the driver’s side front fender
  • Collision of 3,015lb. object into the car’s side at 38.5mph
  • Rollover stability test

The NHTSA is also responsible for setting and enforcing regulations for motor theft resistance and fuel economy, among other roles. They control import of vehicles and vehicle parts, administer the vehicle identification number (VIN) system, and develop crash-test dummies.

If you want to find the NHTSA’s evaluation of a car, go to SaferCar.gov. They post crash test results and other auto safety information, including news and public service announcements.

Vehicles are given an overall ranking out of five stars. They emphasize that ratings for the frontal crash test should only be compared between cars of the same class, since size and weight make such a difference in this aspect. (Ratings for side collisions and rollover tests apply across classes.)

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Also, bear in mind that old cars are ranked lower, because recent developments in auto technology have made new vehicles much safer. Therefore a car that received 4 or 5 stars several years ago may have dropped since then.

  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The IIHS, a non-profit organization funded by auto insurers, has been active since 1959. They provide ratings based on several criteria:

  • Small overlap front crash tests
  • Moderate overlap front crash tests
  • Side crash tests
  • Roof strength
  • Head restraint
  • Front crash prevention
  • Headlight
  • Child seat anchors

Vehicles receive a rating of Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor on each point.

The IIHS also points out the safest cars in each year with labels of Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+.

The safest cars of 2018

new Audi car

Car safety technology has made huge strides in recent years. Electronic stability control and antilock braking systems are now mandatory in all new cars since 2012 and 2013 respectively. Innovations like lane departure warnings and automatic emergency braking, once only seen as novelties in luxury cars, are now widespread lifesaving features.

If you take a look at the most anticipated new and redesigned cars of 2019, which I gave a sneak preview of last month, you’ll notice many of them have these features and more. Also, of course, cars that are reliable and handle well are generally safer to drive.

According to the IIHS, these are a few of the top picks for 2018 and 2019 models according to their safety tests and standards:

  • 2019 Honda Insight
  • 2018 Kia Niro hybrid
  • 2019 Nissan Kicks
  • 2018 Subaru Crosstrek
  • 2018 Toyota Camry
  • 2018 Subaru Legacy
  • 2019 Toyota Avalon
  • 2018 Hyundai Kona
  • 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  • 2018 BMW X3

How do I find the safest car?

young people having fun in a car

When shopping for a new car, there are so many factors to consider. It can seem like a huge research project to find a car that fits all your needs, performs well, looks good, that’s reliable and built to last, that you can enjoy driving, and that meets the latest safety standards… all for your budget!

And once you find what car you want, in some ways the work is just beginning.

That’s why I recommend getting help from an experienced professional. You have two good options for this.

First, you can hire an auto broker. This is someone whose whole job is to help people buy cars. You tell them what you want and what’s your budget. Then they do the research, find models that fit your profile, track down available vehicles and even help you negotiate with the dealerships.

Auto brokers save a huge amount of time and hassle in the buying process. In many cases, they also save money, since they are expert deal-hunters and negotiators.

Another option is to go to a reliable dealership, one that offers personal support and guidance to their customers, and work with them to find a car.

For example, at Capital Motor Cars we walk our customers through every step of the leasing process. We want to make sure that every one of them drives away with the best, safest car.

Of course, not every dealership has the best interests of its customers at heart. You need to find one where the staff aren’t just trying to get your money and run. Check reviews online and go to the dealership to ask questions and get a feel for their service attitude before you commit to anything.


Safety is one of the most important factors to consider when buying a car. When you’re checking out any potential vehicle, be sure to check its safety ratings from either the NHTSA or the IIHS – or both! If it’s a popular model, it might have been reviewed by both groups.

Along with safety rankings, keep in mind general factors like size, functionality in bad weather and safety technology. These all contribute to a car’s overall safety.

And remember, the most important safety feature is the driver! Always be cautious and aware behind the wheel. Your life, and the lives of those around you, depends on it.


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