For the second consecutive year, car buyers with safety at the top of their shopping list have a record number of choices at their dealerships. This conclusion was reached by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit group financed by the insurance industry, which released its list of Top Safety Picks for 2012 on Thursday.
A record 115 passenger vehicles received the distinction of Top Safety Pick. The list includes 69 cars, 38 S.U.V.’s, five minivans and three pickup trucks, making it fairly easy for consumers to find a vehicle that offered what the institute called a high level of protection in four of the most common types of crashes: front, side, rear and rollover.
Of the honorees, 15 are hybrids or electric vehicles, including the new Toyota Prius V wagon, as well as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, both of which were top picks in 2011 as well.
This year’s list significantly raises the record number of 66 announced by the institute last year. The number changes over the year as the institute tests more vehicles. By the end of last year, 97 models had earned the distinction. Those 97 carry over for 2012 and are joined by 18 new models.
In a telephone interview, Adrian Lund, the president of the institute, said that going from 66 to 115 winners was a “huge change in one year.” He attributed the increase to the redesign and strengthening of vehicle roofs to meet a rollover performance requirement added by the institute in 2010.
When that requirement was added, the number of Top Safety Picks fell from 94 the previous year to 27 models.
“We are pleased to see how quickly automakers responded to this roof strength criteria, which is so important for rollover protection,” Mr. Lund added.
The institute says that roofs that are twice as strong as the government standard reduce the risks of serious and fatal injuries in single-vehicle rollovers by about 50 percent, compared to those that only meet the minimum standard. With 2013 models, the government will begin to phase in a new roof-strength standard.
It was a marked improvement in roof strength that led the institute to call Honda, along with its Acura division, the “most improved manufacturer,” Mr. Lund said. Honda and Acura accounted for 10 of the 18 new models named, and 12 of the total 115 honorees.
With 15 models, Toyota, including its Lexus and Scion divisions, has the most vehicles of any automaker with top ratings from the institute. The Camry, the best-selling car in America in 13 of the last 14 years, was named a Top Safety Pick for the first time, with the institute singling out the improved seat and head-restraint design of the redesigned 2012 model. General Motors has 14 models on the list. Volkswagen and Audi are next, with 13 models.
While every major automaker has at least one model among the 2012 picks, Subaru is the only one with the distinction of having all five of its models earning the distinction, though the high-performance WRX versions of the Impreza were not included.
Nissan, Mazda and BMW were the major manufacturers with the fewest picks relative to the number of models they sold.
Click here for a list of all 115 winners.