Sixty-six vehicles earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) "Top Safety Pick" award for 2011--more than double the number at this time last year.
The designation recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, rollover and rear crashes based on good ratings in institute tests.
Last year, the institute added a roof strength test to gauge protection in a rollover crash, which narrowed the field of award winners to just 27 at the beginning of the 2010 model year. Since then, automakers reworked designs and introduced new models with improved safety.
Which auto makers made the list?
Every major automaker has at least one model on the "Top Safety Pick" list this year. Hyundai/Kia and Volkswagen/Audi are front-runners, each having nine winners for 2011. Toyota, which was shut out last year, made a remarkable comeback with eight Toyota, Lexus and Scion models qualifying for 2011. Also earning eight awards apiece for 2011 are General Motors and Ford/Lincoln. Subaru, which won five awards, is the only manufacturer with a winner in all the major vehicle categories--large cars, midsize cars, small cars, midsize SUVs and small SUVs. A full list of winners is available from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The IIHS awarded the first "Top Safety Pick" winners five years ago and then raised the bar the following year by requiring good rear test results and electronic stability control as standard or optional equipment. With last year's new criteria for roof strength the institute's crash test ratings now cover all four of the most common kinds of crashes.
Vehicle safety impacts car insurance rates because claims costs tend to be lower for vehicles that provide better protection in crashes.
In 2009, more than 12,000 people died in frontal crashes of passenger vehicles in the United States, more than 6,000 died in side impacts, and more than 8,000 died in rollovers, according to the IIHS. Rear-end crashes usually aren't fatal but often result in injuries.