IIHS List of Safest Cars Grows Amid Record Recalls in the U.S.

As we know all too well the reports of massive numbers of recalls by the auto-makers dominated the news during 2014. That overshadowed some good news in the automobile industry. A report was released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) last month that contained some positive news. The insurance industry’s list of cars and trucks that do the best job of keeping owners alive in a crash jumped 82 percent last year. The number of vehicles ranked best for keeping occupants safe in a crash rose to 71 for 2015 models from 39 in 2013. Reportedly, that occurred even though the crash tests used to pick winners got harder. The IIHS report indicated that certain cars are now safer. Interestingly, Toyota Motor Corp. has the most models on the list. Adrian Lund, President of IIHS, had this to say in a recent interview:

Our tests show that the designs of vehicles to protect and even prevent crashes are greatly improving. The key thing people need to keep in mind is that defects are the rarity. Automakers are trying to get ahead of the problems and that’s why there’s so many recalls.

While I disagree with Mr. Lund on his reason for the massive number of recalls, I do believe current models are safer than older cars. The recalls now being made should have come about much sooner. Safety improvements among the newest models have been overshadowed by reports of known safety problems being concealed from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the public. Now NHTSA is issuing fines and subpoenas to pressure automakers to fix ignition switches and air bags in models that for more than a decade have been linked to deaths and injuries. The revelation of the defects has pushed U.S. recalls in 2014 to more than 60 million, almost double the previous record.

General Motors recalled 27 million cars and trucks in the U.S. last year, a record for any single automaker. The Detroit-based company has issued 10 safety actions of more than one million vehicles each, according to the NHTSA database. While defective GM ignition switches in small cars have officially been linked to at least 50 deaths and scores of injuries, lawyers in our firm know those numbers are very conservative.

Honda Motor Co, the third-largest Japanese automaker, has recalled 5.4 million vehicles to replace Takata Corp. air bags. Shrapnel from exploding Takata air bags has been tied to at least five fatalities in the U.S. and more than 100 injuries. Unstable propellant in air bag inflators can cause the devices to explode with too much force and spread shrapnel through the car in a crash.

IIHS, which does its own crash tests and enforces safety designs that are more strict than those required by NHTSA, is urging automakers to add technology that applies the brakes without driver control to avoid a crash along with stronger bodies for certain kinds of frontal crashes.

Among the safest 33 vehicles, which IIHS labels “Top Safety Pick+,” the Chrysler 200 sedan from FCA US LLC was the only model from a traditional U.S. brand. Toyota dominated the safest group with eight selections, and had a dozen models among the 71 top picks. IIHS has ratings on 195 vehicles.

The 38 vehicles in the less restrictive “Top Safety Pick” category included 10 models from the Detroit automakers and the rest from foreign brands. GM, with five models, had the most of the U.S. automakers. Honda, in contrast with recalls of older models for Takata airbags, trailed only Toyota with 10 selections among the safest for 2015.