The 15 Safest Cars for 2021

The chances are that you won’t get a warning before an automobile accident happens. The best thing you can do is drive defensively, avoid driving in bad weather conditions, and pick a safe vehicle to drive.

Over 90% of accidents result from driver error. Defensive driving will reduce your chances of getting into an accident, but accidents still happen. Driving a safe car can further your chances of walking away from an accident instead of facing serious injuries.

Here are some of the things you should know about the ways that organizations measure car safety, along with a list of the safest cars in 2021.

What is Car Safety?

Publications that publish car safety ratings use several measurements to assign a rating. These include:

Crash Statistics

Crash statistics can identify trends that might not show up in tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) computes death rates according to vehicle makes and models.

These statistics show that smaller vehicles have more fatal accidents than larger vehicles. This makes sense because smaller vehicles offer less protection than larger vehicles. Smaller vehicles also provide less mass upon which to disperse the energy of a crash. People in the vehicle absorb more energy from the crash and suffer more severe injuries than they might in a larger vehicle.

But crash statistics can also reveal unexpected trends. For example, the Volkswagen Golf earned consistently poor ratings in the IIHS crash statistics. In 2015, the manufacturer redesigned the vehicle and had zero deaths that year.

Crash Tests

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation. The NHTSA conducts crash tests and assigns car safety ratings based on a vehicle’s test performance. The agency publishes these ratings to assist consumers in selecting a safe car.

The IIHS also runs crash tests. The IIHS crash tests vary slightly from the NHTSA crash tests. By looking at both data sets, you can get a good picture when you’re analyzing the safety of a particular vehicle.

The crash tests conducted by the NHTSA and IIHS include:

Frontal Head-On Crash Tests

The NHTSA tests head-on collisions between two vehicles of similar size. The cars collide at 35 miles per hour.

The car carries a male driver and a female passenger in the front seat. Both wear a seat belt. The test evaluates the head, neck, chest, and leg injuries to the crash test dummies.

Overlapping Frontal Crash Tests

The IIHS’s frontal crash tests differ from the NHTSA’s tests. Rather than testing head-on collisions, the IIHS tests collisions in which the vehicles are offset from one another. 

The IIHS conducts three different frontal crashes:

  • Moderate Overlap Test: About half of the vehicle’s front end overlaps with the oncoming vehicle
  • Driver-Side Small Overlap Test: The driver’s side corner of the vehicle hits an oncoming vehicle
  • Passenger-Side Small Overlap Test: The passenger side corner of the vehicle strikes an oncoming vehicle

All of the overlapping frontal crash tests take place at 40 miles per hour.

Side Crash Tests

This test by the NHTSA simulates a T-bone crash in which one vehicle hits the driver side of another vehicle at 38.5 miles per hour.

The car contains a male driver and a female passenger sitting in the back seat behind the driver. Both wear a seat belt. The test produces data about injuries to the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

The IIHS conducts a similar side crash test, but it uses a female driver and a child in the driver’s back seat. The IIHS test is conducted at 31 miles per hour.

Side Pole Tests

This NHTSA test collects data about a crash between a car and a stationary pole. 

The differences between the side crash test and the side pole test are:

  • The size of the impact area – since poles are narrower than the vehicles
  • The location of the impact (with the side crash occurring on the driver’s door and the pole crash occurring at the front fender)
  • The speed of the impact (with the side crash occurring at nearly 40 miles per hour and the pole crash occurring at 20 miles per hour)

The crash test dummies collect data about injuries to the head, chest, lower spine, abdomen, and pelvis.

Rollover Resistance Tests

This NHTSA test uses measurements of the weight and center of gravity of a vehicle to determine the likelihood of a rollover occurring at 55 miles per hour.

Roof Strength Tests

Rather than testing a vehicle’s resistance to rollovers, the IIHS tests what will happen during a rollover. In the IIHS’s roof strength test, instruments measure the force required to crush the roof by five inches. A stronger roof means that there will be less damage and fewer injuries during a rollover accident.

Standard Safety Equipment

The third measure of car safety compares the safety equipment that manufacturers offer for their vehicles. Technology has improved the safety of vehicles in passive and active ways.

Passenger compartments are stronger, bumpers and doors absorb and distribute impacts better, and safety restraints dissipate the force transmitted to the people in the vehicle.

But driver assistance technologies — such as automatic braking systems, blind spot sensors, and collision warning systems — may vastly improve safety over these passive systems. The safest cars in 2021 include some or all of these technological aids to safe driving.

What is the Safest Car? A List of the 15 Safest Vehicles in 2021

The NHTSA and IIHS maintain databases of their crash tests and safety ratings. If you want to find the crash rating for a specific vehicle, both organizations make their databases available online for free.

U.S. News and World Report also compiles the data from these databases to create an annual list of the safest cars. 

In 2020, the safest cars for the 2020-21 model year included:

  1. Toyota Camry (the safest car in the world)
  2. Honda Insight
  3. Kia Optima
  4. Subaru Impreza
  5. Honda Accord
  6. Mazda 3
  7. Hyundai Veloster
  8. Mazda 6
  9. Nissan Maxima
  10. Toyota Corolla
  11. Toyota Corolla Hybrid
  12. Subaru Legacy
  13. Volkswagen Passat
  14. Kia Cadenza
  15. Honda Civic

In 2021, the Toyota Camry continued its long streak as the safest car in the world. It received a perfect rating from both the NHTSA and IIHS. This does not mean that you will always walk away from a crash unharmed if you drive a Toyota Camry. But the Toyota Camry gives you the best chance to survive a crash out of all of the cars tested.