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IIHS to toughen requirements on new-car evaluations in 2020

It will start weighing pedestrian crash avoidance in its ratings, among other changes

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is making it harder for automakers to receive its coveted awards in 2020, announcing tougher new requirements for doling out its Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ designations. The biggest changes center on ratings for pedestrian crash prevention, crashworthiness ratings and headlights.

IIHS started rating pedestrian crash prevention this year, putting vehicles through three different tests, each at two speeds — 12 and 25 mph. But 2020 will mark the first year when the organization factors the results into its awards criteria. Vehicles will have to earn good or acceptable ratings in both vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-vehicle crash prevention — the latter having been part of the criteria since 2014 — and offer both as at least an option in order to receive either award.

But IIHS is raising the bar on its headlight evaluations, which it began incorporating into its ratings in 2016. Starting for 2020, it will award the highest Top Safety Pick+ award only to vehicles whose good- or acceptable-rated headlights are included as standard equipment on all models. Previously, automakers could win the top award if such headlights were an option, even on only a single trim level. That will remain the case for the Top Safety Pick award, but it could have a discernible affect on the number of vehicles that win the top award. In 2019, just 171 of 465 headlight systems tested, or 37%, were rated good or acceptable.

Both awards will also require good ratings for the six crashworthiness tests IIHS conducts, including passenger-side small overlap front crashes. Previously, it was enough to earn an acceptable rating to qualify for the lower TSP award.

IIHS says the moves are designed to encourage automakers to improve vehicle headlights and speed up the adoption of technology to detect and avoid pedestrians. It comes as the number of pedestrians killed by vehicles in 2018 rose to the highest level since 1990, at 6,283. Fatalities of bicyclists and users of other non-motorized vehicles rose by 6.3% to 857, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It also comes as a recent AAA study found such pedestrian detection systems perform poorly in the dark.

NHTSA, a federal agency has said it may begin evaluating pedestrian collision prevention systems as part of its five-star crash ratings, but has yet to do so. IIHS is an independent nonprofit funded by insurers and insurance groups.

In another change, IIHS said it will hold off on announcing the first crop of 2020 award winners until early next year, breaking from its practice of announcing them in November and December. IIHS already issued ratings on the 2020 Jeep Renegade and 2020 Ford Explorer.

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