- 101 vehicles were awarded a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating.
- Better headlights made more vehicles eligible.
- Hyundai, Kia and Genesis dominated the final tally.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently announced its list of 2022 vehicles that earned a Top Safety Pick (TSP) award. It's clear not only that most cars are far safer than they were years ago, but also that automakers have come a long way toward preventing crashes entirely. Only those that excel in both areas are eligible for the Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+) award.
Let's take a look at the institute's latest findings — and try to answer the question, what's headlight design got to do with it?
To be eligible for a TSP award this year, a vehicle was required to offer headlights rated as "good" or "acceptable" in the IIHS Headlight Test, which scientifically measures illumination in a variety of scenarios. Why the focus on headlights? Not surprisingly, the IIHS believes that better headlights will mean fewer crashes since they enable drivers to see more of what's going on in low- or no-light conditions. Considerations for testing include the quality of light delivered with and without high beams on, how well the road is illuminated in curves, and the amount of glare the headlights produce. Not only do the best headlights light up the road, they also don't temporarily blind people coming in the other direction. The IIHS notes that improved headlight performance expanded the field of TSP+ winners for 2022.
The Hyundai Motor Group, which includes the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands, won big this year. It was awarded TSP and TSP+ ratings for 21 different vehicles, which includes the entire lineup from Genesis. Notably, the entire Genesis lineup was awarded a TSP+ award. If you're shopping for luxury there, it's all good. Across the Hyundai and Kia lineup, the headlights often make the biggest difference, with LED lights from the automakers performing the best in the IIHS tests.
In keeping with the preferences of the market, it's no surprise that the awards list offers a generous list of crossover and SUV options. In two of the most popular segments, small and midsize, our top three choices all earned a TSP or TSP+ rating. On the smaller side, the 2022 Honda CR-V only earned a TSP rating (darn those halogen headlights!) while the Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Rogue both earned TSP+ awards. Notably, the CR-V's best headlights are only available on Touring trim models (the highest level) and Hybrids, pushing the price significantly higher than the CX-5 and Rogue, which get LED projectors across the lineup.
Three-row midsize crossovers also present plenty of options, though only three of our top five earned an award: The Kia Telluride got a TSP rating, while the Hyundai Palisade and Mazda CX-9 earned the TSP+ award. Headlight availability bumped the Telluride down to the lower tier. The Honda Pilot and Volkswagen Atlas were missing from the rankings because the Honda received only an acceptable rating for the challenging passenger-side small-overlap front crash test ("good" is the best, "poor" is the worst on a scale of four levels) and the Volkswagen had only "basic" performance in the vehicle-to-pedestrian tests ("basic" is the lowest score on systems that work, with a highest-score available of "superior.")
Last year only two minivans made the cut, and that figure is up to four options for 2022. Aside from commercial vans, the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Kia Carnival make up the entirety of the minivan segment. The Chrysler, Honda and Toyota all earned a TSP+ rating, while the highest trim level of the Kia Carnival (with the LED projector headlights) qualified for a TSP award.
Pickup trucks typically struggle to achieve top marks in this sort of evaluation, in part because of their workhorse use cases. To keep costs down, there still are some basic models that serve on job sites as work trucks, and the existence of that segment will likely mean that despite the advances, you probably won't be able to spec a regular-cab work truck with the fanciest headlights and crash-prevention tech. That being said, our No. 1-ranked truck, the Ford F-150, joined the No. 2-ranked Ram 1500 crew cab this year in the TSP award category. Notably, only extended- and crew-cab F-150s with certain headlights qualified.
F-150 models are easy to distinguish: If they have LED technology of some kind, they earn an acceptable or good rating, but if they're a base model XL or XLT with halogen headlights, they earn a poor rating. Front crash prevention systems are standard on the Ford and earn the highest rating in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian tests. The Ram 1500 quad cab follows a similar formula, "advanced" (middle score) rating for models with the LED projector headlights and optional front-crash prevention tech found in the Advanced Safety Group package.
The IIHS plans to make things a little harder next year by introducing an updated side-impact test, which will be conducted at higher speed with a heavier barrier, and a new nighttime pedestrian crash prevention test. The IIHS will also require a good or acceptable headlight as standard equipment across the entire lineup for the vehicle to be eligible for a TSP or TSP+ award. That means base models with older halogen bulbs instead of LED reflectors or projectors will disqualify a model from the running.
Not only have cars gotten safer overall in crashes, they're getting better at keeping us from crashing at all.