7 of the safest cars on the road

  • The bar keeps getting raised for cars to score in the top category of safety. Now, in addition to crash protection, cars must have effective headlights to get the highest rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    Driving down a winding road at night, the power of your headlights may determine if you see a pedestrian or an oncoming car and are thus able to avoid an accident. That's why the IIHS is also weighing the effectiveness of headlights when assigning its top auto safety rating.

    It began testing headlights this year after determining that federal standards for headlights are set in laboratory tests and don't reflect real-world driving conditions. In one of the initial IIHS tests, 17 of 21 small SUVs were rated as having ineffective headlights.

    For this year's ratings of 2017 models, vehicles that got the best rating -- Top Safety Pick Plus -- had to have good or acceptable ratings on their headlights in addition to the previous criteria of scoring well in front, side and rollover crash tests. Since last year, top-rated cars also must have a good or acceptable automatic braking technology to avoid front-end crashes.

    The new headlight requirement reduced the number of Top Safety Pick Plus winners from 48 last year to 38 this time. "The field of contenders is smaller this year because so few vehicles have headlights that do their job well," said Adrian Lund, IIHS president. "But the field is not as small as we expected. Manufacturers are focusing on improving this basic safety equipment."

    The second-level rating, Top Safety Pick (without the Plus), goes to cars that meet all the standards except for good or acceptable headlights. In some cases, the rating applies only to the version of the car with optional safety equipment (here's the full list of 44 Top Safety Pick and 38 Top Safety Pick Plus vehicles).

    Of this year's Top Safety Pick Plus winners, only seven vehicles got good ratings for their headlights. IIHS points out that price is no indicator of headlight quality. The only luxury vehicle with good headlight ratings is a Volvo SUV.

    Read on to learn about seven of the safest vehicles on the road.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.