Even as the design of cars become increasingly safety focused and even automated, speed, texting, and driving while under the influence contribute to a rising number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes, particularly in the United States. Asian car manufacturers nearly swept the 2016 motor vehicle safety rankings by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), securing nine of the top 10 spots. Only Daimler's (Germany) Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class joined Toyota, Hyundai, Subaru, and Honda in the top 10.
The IIHS testing of new cars in the North American market covered three safety components:
- Crashworthiness, a measure of how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash;
- Crash prevention and mitigation, including all systems that warn a driver or introduce automatic breaking to avoid or mitigate a frontal collision;
- Child seat anchors, which assesses the usability of child seat attachment hardware.
This year’s crashworthiness tests were distinctive from years past because of new, more stringent regulations related to vehicles’ front optics performance. The IIHS test is the world's first official rating of reliability and quality of the front headlights based on how well a particular vehicle illuminates the road at night and the degree to which short-range headlights "blind" oncoming drivers.
- A slim majority (52.4%) of cars tested received poor or marginal ratings.
- Only seven models earned top scores; namely, Chevy Volt, Honda Ridgeline, Hyundai Elantra and Santa Fe, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Prius V, and Volvo XC60.
Car safety features and overall design along with traffic speed and the use of seatbelts are considered central factors in the number of traffic deaths worldwide. According to a 2008 estimate from the World Health Organization, 1.2 million people died globally in motor vehicle crashes. North America, Western Europe, and Australia have the safest roads, with the total number of traffic deaths ranging from 2.7 to 12 deaths per 100,000 people.
- As manufacturers have enhanced car safety features, countries have reported persistently declining numbers of deaths from road accidents over the last decade, according to the International Transport Forum.
- In most countries, the maximum permitted speed in urban areas does not exceed 60 km/h (about 37 mph) and the majority of people use seatbelts while driving.
- Despite a relatively low number of traffic deaths compared to peers globally, US regulators and the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have reportedly taken note of the 14 percent increase in the number of motor vehicle deaths in the US since 2014 and are exploring potential underlying causes and the role that new technology—including autonomous vehicle technology—could play in reversing the trend.
Methodology note: IIHS simplified its estimation methodology to more clearly distinguish among the tested vehicles on the basis of numerical values, replacing letter grades, and to shift to a numerical overall rating. The Institute now uses a 4-point grading scale—poor (1), marginal (2), acceptable (3), and good (4)—for crashworthiness, crash avoidance and mitigation, and child seat anchors. To appraise front crash prevention, the Institute uses a 3-level scale: basic (1-2), advanced (2-3), and superior (4-6). A car receives a crash prevention score of zero if a feature is not available for testing.