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Insurance group picks its safest 2017 vehicles

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Toyota (TM) and its high-end Lexus division has wracked up nine coveted “top safety pick” honors from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the most of any automaker. Ranking second is another Japanese car manufacturer -- Honda (HMC), along with its Acura luxury brand -- with five vehicles rated as among the safest on the road.

Other picks receiving the highest marks from the nonprofit insurance organization include the Volt, the electric vehicle made by General Motors’ (GM) Chevrolet division, in the small car category; the Subaru Forrester for small SUVs; and the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.  Another 44 vehicles earned IIHS’ lower safety seal of approval.

Fatal highways: America's 9 most dangerous places for drivers
Fatal highways: America's 9 most dangerous places for drivers

To qualify for a top safety pick from IIHS, a vehicle must be rated as “good” on five different crash tests, “advanced” or “superior” front-crash prevention, and “good” or “acceptable” for its headlights. 

One way cars are becoming safer: headlights. IIHS earlier this year adopted more stringent standards for headlights given that existing federal regulations allow for a wider range in the illumination they provide, according to the group. That’s a critical safety issue since about half of all traffic deaths happen either at dawn or dusk. 

IIHS engineers measure how far light is projected from a vehicle’s low beams and high beams as it travels straight and on curves, along with glare from low beams for oncoming drivers. Seven vehicles, including the Volt, Honda Ridgeline pickup, and Hyundai Santa Fe midsize SUV, had headlights that were rated “good” by IIHS.

11 of the best new cars for 2017
11 of the best new cars for 2017

“The field of contenders is smaller this year because so few vehicles have headlights that do their job well, but it’s not as small as we expected when we decided to raise the bar for the awards,” Adrian Lund, IIHS president, said in a statement. “Manufacturers are focusing on improving this basic safety equipment, and we’re confident that the winners’ list will grow as the year progresses.”

Several automakers, such as Subaru and Mitsubishi, appear to have taken IIHS’s advice and improved their headlights on their Forrester and Outlander models respectively, enabling them to earn top safety honors. Toyota also won the award after redesigning its Corolla sedan to better protect occupants in a small overlap crash and in preventing front crashes.

2017 Toyota Corolla small overlap IIHS crash test by IIHS on YouTube

“Toyota’s prior version of the Corolla was rated marginal for small overlap protection, and the small car didn’t have an available front crash prevention system,” IIHS said.

IIHS began issuing top safety awards in the 2006 model year as an aide to consumers making vehicle purchases.