Over the last decade, vehicle safety has improved dramatically as automakers recognize that safety is a big selling point.
The organization has long used crash tests as a key element for rating vehicles, including hits to the front driver's side, but this year the institute added a new test: crashes to the front on the passenger side.
A Top Safety Pick Plus vehicle earned a good rating in crash tests and roof strength, and high marks for crash avoidance technology.
The IIHS gave the award to only 15 vehicles, compared to 69 a year ago. IIHS first began conducting driver-side small overlap crashes in 2012.
Headlights weren't factored in for the 2017 Top Safety Pick, and an acceptable headlight rating was enough to bump a 2017 award victor into the "plus" category.
Also relatively new are the headlight ratings, which were first instituted in March 2016, and the initial results were poor. Hyundai, also the owner of the Kia and Genesis brands, produced six models earning the top award, while Subaru has four, the IIHS said in announcing its annual list.
"Cars are safer now than they ever have been", Lund believes with even more improvements in crash test performance and headlights, vehicles will be even safer down the road. For small sized vehicles the Kia Forte, Kia Soul, Subaru Impreza and Subaru WRX came out on top. The BRZ is the only Subaru model that doesn't qualify.
The vast majority of award winners only qualify when optionally equipped with front crash prevention and acceptable or good headlights aren't part of their base trims, the institute said.
Headlights that effectively light up the road are another area where the IIHS has raised its standards. In order to meet the top ranking, and in some instances, simply being a "Top Pick", the vehicle must be upgraded.
"All automakers have pledged to make auto braking standard equipment on their vehicles by 2022", said Lund. By fall of 2017, 69 vehicles had earned 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+ and 51 had earned 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK.
"The improvements in occupant protection have been unbelievable over the past decades", he said in a statement.
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