Standard Headlights, Pedestrian Protection Mandates Raise Bar for Crash-Test Honors

IIHS-Standards-2020 IIHS crash | IIHS image

Increasing safety should be on every automaker’s New Year’s resolution list if they want to continue to earn crashworthiness accolades from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The insurance-industry-sponsored crash-safety advocacy organization just announced that it’s going to get tougher for vehicles to qualify for its Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus awards in 2020.

Related: IIHS Considers Beefing Up Side-Impact Test

Shining a Light on Safety

First, IIHS is focusing on headlights for its 2020 ratings. Good- or acceptable-rated headlights need to be standard for a vehicle to earn the Top Safety Pick Plus designation, the agency’s highest honor. Currently, if a vehicle’s base headlights are rated as poor but its optional ones score well, it still qualifies for the award — a loophole that penalizes consumers who can’t afford the upgraded headlights. For the Top Safety Pick award in 2020, available good or acceptable headlights will be required, but they won’t need to be standard.

Pedestrians Prioritized

IIHS is also raising the bar when it comes to front-crash prevention systems. For 2020, a vehicle must earn at least an advanced rating in both the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian tests; the system does not need to be standard, however. The front crash prevention requirements apply to both tiers of awards. Vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention has been factored into the awards since 2014, but 2020 is the first year pedestrian crash-prevention ratings apply.

“This technology is important to help address the growing problem of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S., which recently reached their highest levels in more than a quarter century,” IIHS said in a statement.

Passenger-Side Small Overlap Test

Introduced in 2017, IIHS has completed phase-in of the passenger-side small overlap test. To qualify for Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus in 2020, vehicles must get a good in this test along with the other crash tests. For 2019, Top Safety Pick vehicles needed a good or acceptable rating in this test, and Plus designees needed a good.

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A Moving Target

Each year, IIHS toughens its award criteria, and based on numbers from the agency, automakers are paying attention. Headlights are a good example. When IIHS launched its headlight ratings criteria in 2016, only three headlight systems earned a good rating out of the 224 units tested. In comparison, 68 out of the 465 headlight systems tested earned a good rating for the 2019 model year.

“As we do nearly every year, we’re making it a little tougher to earn our awards. We hope these changes will encourage automakers to stop equipping vehicles with inferior headlights and speed the adoption of technology that can help protect pedestrians,” IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby said in a statement.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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