Vehicles are getting safer according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which published its list of 2009 Top Safety Picks today. A total of 72 vehicles earned Top Safety Pick honors this year, which means each one earned the highest score of Good in front, side and rear crash tests performed by the IIHS, as well as offers electronic stability control. Ford and Volvo had the most cars on the list with 16 total, while Honda/Acura nabbed 13. The VW/Audi Group had nine models, and General Motors and Toyota each had eight.

Proper head restraints were apparently a major stumbling block that kept a total of 26 vehicles off the list. The Chevy Malibu, Saturn Aura, Toyota Prius and Camry, smart fortwo, Infiniti G35 and M35 and many more would have made the list if they offered adequate head restraint designs. Chrysler LLC was the only automaker with no Top Safety Picks, and would have earned the honor for the Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town and Country if they had offered better head restraint designs.

The IIHS says that this year's total of 72 picks is more than double last year's crop and triple the amount from 2007. That says new car safety is moving in the right direction and helped along the most by the widespread inclusion of ESC as standard equipment. Aside from Chrysler LLC, the good showing of both Ford and GM is also testament to the fact that U.S. automakers are not only keeping up with their competition when it comes to safety, but in many ways leading it.

Check out the complete list of all 72 Top Safety Picks after the jump.

UPDATE: Video added after the jump.

[Source: IIHS]


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PRESS RELEASE:

IIHS Names Top Safety Performers for 2009

ARLINGTON, VA - Crash Test Winners - Seventy-two vehicles earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick award for 2009. This is more than double the number of 2008 recipients and more than 3 times the number of 2007 winners. Top Safety Pick recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on good ratings in Institute tests. Winners also have to have electronic stability control (ESC), which research shows significantly reduces crash risk.

For the first time ever, winners represent every class of vehicle the Institute tests except microcars. Most car, minivan, and SUV models, midsize convertibles, and small and large pickups are eligible. Ford and its subsidiary Volvo have 16 winners, including the Ford F-150 large pickup. Thirteen winners are from Honda and its Acura division. The Honda Fit with optional ESC is the first minicar to earn Top Safety Pick.

Honda, Acura, and Subaru, which picked up 4 awards, are standouts for 2009 because they have at least 1 Top Safety Pick in every vehicle class in which they compete.

"Consumers are the biggest winners," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "No matter what kind of vehicle buyers may be considering, now they can walk into just about any dealership and find one that affords the best overall protection in serious crashes."

Front and side impacts are the most common kinds of fatal crashes, killing about three-quarters of the 28,896 passenger vehicle occupants who died in 2007. Rear-end crashes usually aren't fatal, but they result in a large proportion of crash injuries. Neck sprain or strain is the most commonly reported injury in two thirds of insurance claims for injuries in all kinds of crashes.

Automakers improve protection: Top Safety Pick provides an incentive for manufacturers to offer safer vehicle designs that go far beyond basic federal standards.

"In order to win, automakers have beefed up the side structures of vehicles and added side airbags to do a better job of protecting people in serious side crashes," Lund says. "They're rapidly adding ESC to prevent crashes, and they're designing seats and head restraints that do a better job of protecting against whiplash."

The changes are evident in the safety equipment that is increasingly standard. For the 2009 model year, 84 percent of passenger cars, 99 percent of SUVs, and 23 percent of pickups have standard side airbags with head protection. The same is true for ESC. It's standard on 74 percent of passenger cars, 99 percent of SUVs, and 37 percent of pickups.

Crash avoidance is required: The Institute began the Top Safety Pick program in 2006, initially giving out 2 tiers of awards. Gold winners scored good ratings for front, side, and rear crash protection. Silver winners had good ratings in front and side tests and acceptable ratings in rear evaluations.

For 2007, the Institute raised the bar to win by requiring good rear impact results and ESC as either standard or optional equipment. ESC helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles in the worst situation - loss of control at high speed - by engaging automatically when it senses vehicle instability and helping to bring a vehicle back in the intended line of travel. ESC lowers the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about half, and it lowers the risk of a fatal rollover crash by as much as 70 percent.

Rear, side performance still lags: Crash tests have driven major improvements in the designs of all kinds and sizes of passenger vehicles. The Institute began conducting frontal tests for consumer information in 1995. Side tests were added in 2003 and rear tests in 2004. Most vehicles earn good ratings based on the frontal crash test, but significant differences remain among vehicles' performance in side and rear tests.

Twenty-six models fall short of earning Top Safety Pick because of inadequate head restraint designs. The Smart Fortwo, the only microcar in the US market, missed because of its head restraints. The same goes for Toyota's hybrid Prius, which performed well in the Institute's front and side crash tests but came up short for rear crash protection.

Chrysler is the only major automaker lacking a single Top Safety Pick. It could have picked up 5 awards if the head restraints were better in the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, the Sebring convertible, and the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country.

A 2008 Institute analysis of insurance claims found that, all other factors being the same, drivers of vehicles with seat/head restraint combinations rated good in Institute evaluations were 15 percent less likely to sustain neck injuries in rear-end crashes than drivers of vehicles with poor head restraints.

Eleven vehicles missed the mark because they didn't earn a good rating for occupant protection in side crashes. Many of these vehicles are smaller cars whose size puts them at a disadvantage in the challenging test compared with larger, heavier vehicles.

"Still, the sheer number of this year's winners indicates that automakers have made huge strides to improve crash protection to achieve Top Safety Pick designation," Lund says. "For years Toyota had more also-rans than winners. For 2009 this automaker has come on strong by updating seats and head restraints in the Avalon, Corolla, FJ Cruiser, and RAV4 to earn good ratings. Volkswagen has done the same with the Eos, Jetta, Passat, and Rabbit."

Winners include 8 large cars, 13 midsize cars, 6 small cars, 1 minicar, 3 midsize convertibles, and 3 minivans. Among SUVs, 19 are midsize, 10 are small, and 5 are large. The 2008 Toyota Tundra was the first large pickup to earn Top Safety Pick. For 2009, the Tundra is joined by the Ford F-150 and the Honda Ridgeline. The Toyota Tacoma is the only small pickup winner.

Each year the Institute offers to test Top Safety Pick candidates early in the model year. The policy is for manufacturers to reimburse the Institute for the cost of vehicles if the tests aren't part of the group's regular schedule. Top Safety Pick is presented by vehicle size because size and weight are closely related, and both influence how well occupants will be protected in serious crashes. Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better protection in crashes than smaller, lighter ones.

"Just because small cars are Top Safety Picks doesn't make them as crashworthy as larger vehicles," Lund says. "Rather, it's all the more important to choose a small car that rates highly for safety because you give up the protection of size and weight."

How vehicles are evaluated: The Institute's frontal crashworthiness evaluations are based on results of 40 mph frontal offset crash tests. Each vehicle's overall evaluation is based on measurements of intrusion into the occupant compartment, injury measures recorded on a Hybrid III dummy in the driver seat, and analysis of slow-motion film to assess how well the restraint system controlled dummy movement during the test.

Side evaluations are based on performance in a crash test in which the side of a vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph. The barrier represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Ratings reflect injury measures recorded on two instrumented SID-IIs dummies, assessment of head protection countermeasures, and the vehicle's structural performance during the impact.

Rear crash protection is rated according to a two-step procedure. Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint geometry - the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance behind the back of the head of an average-size man. Seat/head restraints with good or acceptable geometry are tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test simulates a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at 20 mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor overall because they can't be positioned to protect many people.

All 72 Winners of 2009 IIHS Top Safety Performers

IIHS 2009 Large Car Top Safety Performers
Acura RL
Audi A6
Cadillac CTS
Ford Taurus
Lincoln MKS
Mercury Sable
Toyota Avalon
Volvo S80

IIHS 2009 Midsize Car Top Safety Performers
Acura TL
Acura TSX
Audi A3
Audi A4
BMW 3 series 4-door models
Ford Fusion with optional electronic stability control
Honda Accord 4-door models
Mercedes C class
Mercury Milan with optional electronic stability control
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy
Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen Passat

IIHS 2009 Midsize Convertibles Top Safety Performers
Saab 9-3
Volkswagen Eos
Volvo C70

IIHS 2009 Small Cars Top Safety Performers
Honda Civic 4-door models (except Si) with optional electronic stability control
Mitsubishi Lancer with optional electronic stability control
Scion xB
Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control
Toyota Corolla with optional electronic stability control
Volkswagen Rabbit

IIHS 2009 Mini Car Top Safety Performers
Honda Fit with optional electronic stability control

IIHS 2009 Minivan Top Safety Performers
Honda Honda Odyssey
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona

IIHS 2009 Large SUV Top Safety Performers
Audi Q7
Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Traverse
GMC Acadia
Saturn Outlook

IIHS 2009 Midsize SUV Top Safety Performers
Acura MDX
Acura RDX
BMW X3
BMW X5
Ford Edge
Ford Flex
Ford Taurus X
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Veracruz
Infiniti EX35
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes M Class
Nissan Murano
Saturn VUE
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Toyota Highlander
Volvo XC90

IIHS 2009 Small SUV Top Safety Performers
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V, Element
Mazda Tribute
Mercury Mariner
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4
Volkswagen Tiguan

IIHS 2009 Large Pickups Top Safety Performers
Ford F-150
Honda Ridgeline
Toyota Tundra

IIHS 2009 Small Pickups Top Safety Performers
Toyota Tacoma

ALSO-RANS For 2009 IIHS Top Safety Performers
The following 26 vehicles earn good ratings in front and side crash tests. They have ESC, standard or optional. They would be 2009 Top Safety Pick winners if their seat/head restraints also earn good ratings:

Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler Sebring
Chrysler Sebring Convertible
Chrysler Town & Country
Dodge Avenger
Dodge Grand Caravan
Infiniti G35
Infiniti M35
Kia Amanti
Lexus ES
Lexus GS
Lexus IS
Mazda CX-7
Mazda CX-9
Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
Mitsubishi Endeavor
Nissan Altima
Nissan Pathfinder
Nissan Quest
Nissan Xterra
Saturn AURA
smart Fortwo
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Camry
Toyota Prius
Toyota Sienna