A harsher side impact test and new requirements for headlamps are the main changes.
Only 48 models qualify for one of the two awards this year compared to 101 in 2022.
Even stricter guidelines are expected in 2024.
As progress is made in terms of automotive safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is having to update its tests to better reflect the actual differences between vehicles.
For 2023, the institute’s Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick + awards have become harder to obtain due to a few changes in criteria.
This is because more and more cars were able to qualify every year, causing the awards to lose some of their meaning.
In order to be eligible for the Top Safety Pick award, cars and SUVs now need to achieve an “Acceptable” or “Good” rating in the tougher updated side impact test which generates 82% more energy than the original test which was unchanged since its introduction in 2003. The Top Safety Pick + award requires cars to earn the top mark in this test.
These changes are supposed to better reflect the majority of side impacts observed on American roads now that most people drive SUVs. This is why the mobile barrier is now higher and moving faster than before.
When the original test was launched 20 years ago, most vehicles scored “Poor” until automakers redesigned their crash structure in order to better perform. Back in 2021 when the new test was added, almost every car on the market managed the highest possible “Good” rating in the original test.
Headlights are also a key part of the changes implemented for 2023 since starting this year, vehicles are only eligible if all of their trim levels come standard with headlamps that are considered “Acceptable” or “Good”.
Previously, headlamp standards only called for one trim level offering “Acceptable” or “Good” headlamps for the Top Safety Pick award, while the Top Safety Pick + criteria were the same as this year.
Pedestrian collision warning systems have also been looked at in order to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities, which has been on the rise for many years in the United States.
To earn the top mark, vehicles now need to be equipped with systems that are ranked “Advanced” or “Superior” in both daytime and nighttime operation while the Top Safety Pick award only requires the same level of competency during the day.
The roof strength test, head restraint test, and vehicle-to-vehicle collision avoidance test have all been removed from the criteria this year since almost every vehicle on the market performed very well in these tests for a number of years already.
The IIHS says some of these tests could come back in an updated form that would aim to further increase occupant safety.
Of course, upping the requirements for both awards means that fewer vehicles qualify, with only 48 models being rewarded this year compared to 101 in 2022. Of those 48, only 28 are in the Top Safety Pick + category, which contained 65 vehicles last year.
Even fewer vehicles could qualify next year since the institute is planning other changes that will further increase the difficulty of its tests, such as requiring a “Good” result in the updated side impact test for both awards and making either an “Acceptable” or “Good” result mandatory in the updated moderate overlap front test introduced in 2022 for the Top Safety Pick + award.