Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a U.S. nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers, established in 1959 and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. It works to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes, and the rate of injuries and amount of property damage in the crashes that still occur. It carries out research and produces ratings for popular passenger vehicles as well as for certain consumer products such as child car booster seats. It also conducts research on road design and traffic regulations, and has been involved in promoting policy decisions.


Frontal offset impact test

  Frontal offset crash test of a Hyundai Tucson

The Institute’s front crash test differs from that of the American government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program in that its tests are offset. This test exposes 40% of the front of the vehicle to an impact with a deformable barrier at approximately 40 mph (64 km/h). Because only 40% of the vehicle’s front must stand the impact, it shows the structural strength better than the NHTSA’s full-width testing does. Many real-life frontal impacts are offset. However the NHTSA’s full frontal crash tests result in the occupant compartment going through greater deceleration. The full frontal crash test is more suitable for evaluating restraint systems such as seat belts and airbags.

The IIHS and NHTSA tests can differ. For example, the NHTSA gave the Chevrolet Venture(also marketed as Oldsmobile Silhouette, Pontiac Montana/TransSport) 4/5 stars (with 5 stars being the best and 1 star the worst), but the IIHS rated it «Poor» for its poor structural integrity which becomes apparent in the offset crash test. This minivan was one of the poorest performers since the offset frontal crash tests were begun in 1995. The same applies for the 1997–2003 Ford F-150.

The IIHS evaluates six individual categories assigning each a «Good», «Acceptable», «Marginal», or «Poor» rating before determining the vehicle’s overall frontal impact rating.

  • It is important to note as with the NHTSA’s frontal impact test, vehicles across different weight categories may not be directly compared. This is because the heavier vehicle is generally considered to have an advantage if it encounters a lighter vehicle or is involved in a single-vehicle crash. The IIHS demonstrated this by crashing three midsize sedans with three smaller Good rated minicars. All three minicars were rated «Poor» in these special offset head-on car-to-car tests, while the midsize cars rated «Good» or «Acceptable.»

  Side impact test

  Side impact crash test of a Mitsubishi Lancer

Compared to the NHTSA test rig, which simulates the impact from the front end of a passenger car, the taller IIHS test rig simulates the impact of an sport utility vehicle or Pickup truck(approximately a quarter of all new cars sold) into the side of the vehicle being tested. This is a very demanding test of both the vehicle’s structural integrity and its side airbag systems, if any. (Seat belts play a less important role in side crashes on the impacted side of the vehicle.) While most new vehicles achieve 4–5 stars from the NHTSA (where head injuries are not part of the rating), many do not score well in the IIHS side impact test.

The IIHS assigns one the same «Good», «Acceptable», «Marginal», or «Poor» ratings to nine categories before deciding the vehicle’s overall side impact score.

  Rear crash protection/head restraint ratings

This test uses the vehicle’s driver seat in order to determine the effectiveness of the head restraints. The driver’s seat is placed on a sled to mimic rear end collisions at 20 mph. Rear end collisions at low to moderate speeds typically do not result in serious injuries but they are common. In 2005 the IIHS estimated 25% of medical costs were related to whiplash injuries.

  Roof strength evaluation

  Roof strength test of a Kia Sportage

In the United States rollovers accounted for nearly 25% of passenger vehicle fatalities. Features such as electronic stability control are proven to significantly reduce rollovers and lane departure warning systems may also help. Rollover sensing side curtain airbags also help to minimize injuries in the event of a rollover. In March 2009 the IIHS began testing the roof strength of certain vehicles only.

  Top Safety Pick Award

The Top Safety Pick is an annual award to the best-performing cars of the year. In order to receive a Top Safety Pick the vehicle must receive «Good» overall marks in the front and side impact tests, as well as a «Good» overall rating based on the driver’s seat head restraint design. Electronic Stability Control must also be at least optional. Beginning with the 2010 award, vehicles must also earn a «Good» rating in the new roof strength test.

  50th Anniversary

  Crash-tested 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air

In 2009, the IIHS celebrated its 50th anniversary, and tested a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air crashing head-on, 40% offset with a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu at 40 mph. The Bel Air’s occupant compartment was extensively damaged by the crash, and the car did not have modern safety features such as airbags and seat belts. The driver dummy in the Bel Air recorded forces that would produce a fatal injury to a real driver. This car performed far worse than the 2nd generation GM minivans that were the worst performers of all time in the IIHS offset test. The Malibu’s occupant compartment remained intact and had advanced safety equipment that protected the driver from potential injury. The Malibu driver dummy recorded forces that would produce only a minor foot injury to a real driver.


The IIHS has come under scrutiny on several occasions since the 1980s over what some consider unfair bias against certain vehicle types, namely some small pickups and certain types of motorcycles. Since the IIHS first-and-foremost represents the interests of the 80 insurance companies from which it receives its funding, critics such as the American Motorcyclist Association have suggested that the IIHS sometimes seeks to influence legislation aimed at making insurance companies more profitable, rather than benefitting the public interest.

In 1980, the IIHS helped 60 Minutes produce a report showing the Jeep CJ rolling over eight times in 435 test runs conducted by a robotic driving apparatus. The testing was criticized as unrealistic in an editorial in National Review

The IIHS released a report in 2007 suggesting that certain types of motorcycles be either banned or restricted from use on public roads, specifically sport bikes, after lumping together several different types of non-sport motorbikes into makeshift categories, allegedly to skew the crash data in favor of its argument. The 2007 report mirrored a similar IIHS study released in 1987, which was claimed by the IIHS to be based on findings in the famous Hurt Report motorcycle crash study, and which was used to influence U.S. Sen. John Danforth into proposing a law that would have mandated horsepower limits for bikes sold in America. Dr. Hugh H. «Harry» Hurt, Jr., the noted author of the Hurt Report, called the 1987 IIHS study «sloppy» and «fatally flawed».

Citing its similarities to the 1987 report, AMA called the 2007 IIHS report «… a bike classification shell game». An AMA news release stated: «We beat the IIHS sportbike ban [in 1987], and we even got Sen. Danforth on our side, saying that he recognized that the AMA had the constituent interest in motorcycle safety and that his IIHS-backed bill was a ‘dead-end street.'».

Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations, said of the 2007 report: «This kind of flawed report, passed off as scientific research, has the potential to do great damage. At the very least, it can create false perceptions we’ll have to fight for years. And at worst, it could lead to restrictive laws that have no basis in reality.”

In the IIHS’ annual reports on vehicle safety they frequently miscorrelate vehicle safety with the number of driver deaths each year. Their calculation of «Death Rate» selectively excludes the number of non-fatal crashes that occur; without this data, the actual likelihood of dying in a crash is simply unknown.[citation needed] Nonetheless, the IIHS has used this method for 22 years to determine the safest vehicles.

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