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Most cars doing a better job of crash protection and avoidance

Look for better headlights in 2018 models. There were some new names, and some notably absent, in the 2017 list of safest cars. All in all, automakers continue to make strides in protecting drivers and passengers. The best cars have good crash protection, collision avoidance and other cutting-edge features.

Every year the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety raises the bar a little higher. In addition to five different crash tests, this year the IIHS added headlight effectiveness to the criteria for the elite status of "Top Safety Picks Plus." Many vehicles were judged subpar, which likely means that many of next year's models will have improved headlights. Win-win.

How does your vehicle stack up? Or, if you're driving an older car, what should you be looking for when you trade up?

Safe, safer and safest

The IIHS tests cars on numerous criteria. Vehicles earn the coveted Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+) if the they perform in the "good" or "superior" range in certain categories: side impact, rollover (roof strength), head restraint, moderate overlap front crash, small overlap crash, automatic emergency braking, and headlight effectiveness. Most of the top-rated cars are also available with optional front crash prevention technology.

  • Not surprisingly, large sedans and full-size SUVs tend protect people better than smaller cars in motor vehicle collisions. Nonetheless, there are safe options even in the microcar class, such as the Mini Cooper and Scion iA.

  • Best-sellers like the Ford Taurus and Cherolet Impala did not make this year's list. Nor did the highly touted Tesla Model S, which did not perform as well on a newer test which simulates a front-end crash.

  • The IIHS reveals much room for improvement with headlight technology. For example, 17 of 21 of the small SUVs tested were deemed to have "marginal" or "poor" headlights.

The IIHS listed 38 vehicles as Top Safety Picks Plus (TSP+). Another 42 vehicles were rated Top Safety Picks (TSP) even though they did not meet the headlight criteria. There are solidly safe cars in every category: sedans and coupes, SUVs and vans, pickups, small cars and large luxury cruisers, even the Chevy Volt hybrid electric.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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