Crash and Learn: An Inside Look at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
March 3, 2021 | Webinar
This installment of the Wednesdays with Woodward® webinar series provided a behind-the-scenes look at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent, scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from motor vehicle crashes. Supported by the insurance industry and Travelers, IIHS crashes vehicles — and lots of them — in its state-of-the-art Vehicle Research Center to help consumers make informed decisions.
Guests Dr. David Harkey, President of IIHS and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), and Drew Woods, Vice President, Research and Development for Personal Lines at Travelers, discussed IIHS’ crashworthiness tests for 2023 models, the latest in auto safety, and what consumers may want to consider when buying personal or company vehicles.
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What Makes an IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK?
IIHS grades vehicle performance on a scale from good to poor, based on the structural integrity of the occupant compartment and the risk of serious injury in a collision. Currently, IIHS conducts six types of tests, including frontal side impact, roof strength and rear crash tests.
To qualify as an IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK a vehicle must get a “good” rating in all six crash tests, receive an advanced or superior rating in front crash prevention for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian tests, and have available acceptable- or good-rated headlights. To achieve the IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+, vehicles must have acceptable- or good-rated headlights as standard equipment across all model trims and packages.
Dr. Harkey shared that IIHS crashes around 100 vehicles per year at its Vehicle Research Center. Dr. Woods, a Board member of IIHS/HLDI, described witnessing a crash test in person: “Everything just happens in an instant. I think you feel it as much as hear or see it.” he said. “The thing that struck me most was how long you hear pieces of the vehicle hitting the ground.”
Collaboration with Automakers
Dr. Harkey explained that IIHS maintains a collaborative but independent relationship with the auto industry. Crash test vehicles are purchased directly from dealerships, meaning they are the same vehicles available to the public.
He also noted that automakers respond to IIHS’s safety findings and actively work to improve their results, which improves safety outcomes for everyone. “They want to produce safe cars as much as we want them to produce safe cars,” he said.
As a result, over the last four years, significantly more private passenger vehicles insured in the United States have a “good” or “acceptable” IIHS rating.
IIHS/HLDI and the Insurance Industry
HLDI works with its members in the insurance industry to exchange data that benefits both parties, explained Dr. Woods. HLDI has data for 85% of the more than the 250 million private passenger vehicles currently insured in the United States, representing much more available information than an individual insurance carrier would have access to on its own.
Moreover, HLDI data represent vehicles with a diversity of emerging technologies, painting a more complete picture of today’s vehicle fleet. This information allows insurers to spot emerging trends and to enhance underwriting accuracy on specific vehicles or in specific geographies.
Dr. Woods pointed to HLDI data illustrating that overall losses for collision and property damage liability are lower for electric vehicles than for their internal combustion powered counterparts. Specifically, the frequency of collision losses in electric vehicles is 20% lower and the frequency of property damage liability losses is 15% lower compared to their standard gasoline counterparts. This data from HLDI allows insurance carriers to understand these trends much sooner than would be possible using only one company’s data.
In addition, HLDI has access to years of historical insurance data and can examine the development and integration of driver-safety technologies over time in the auto market. HLDI uses these historical trends to make predictions concerning when or how quickly newer safety features will become commonplace.
To learn more and access the latest research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, visit its website at iihs.org.
 Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation. “Number of U.S. Aircraft, Vehicles, Vessels, and Other Conveyances.” https://www.bts.gov/content/number-us-aircraft-vehicles-vessels-and-other-conveyances.
Dr. David Harkey
President, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute