By MSN Money staff with wire reports
The number of new cars considered the safest by the insurance industry nearly tripled in the past year, helped by automakers' push to make certain safety equipment more widely available.
Ford and Honda had the most vehicles on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's annual list of the safest cars for the 2008 model year.
Thirty-four vehicles received the top safety pick designation for 2008, compared with 13 vehicles from the 2007 model year.
Video: The safest vehicles
The institute requires new cars and trucks to have electronic stability control, or ESC, to qualify for the award. Many auto companies are putting the anti-rollover technology into their fleets ahead of a government requirement for the systems by the 2012 model year.
"Vehicles should be designed to provide good occupant protection when crashes occur, but now with ESC we have the possibility of preventing many crashes altogether," said Adrian Lund, the institute's president.
Lundcited studies that have estimated that as many as 10,000 fatal crashes could be avoided annually if all vehicles had the technology.
The 34 safest vehicles
Acura MDX, RDX
BMW X3, X5
Ford Edge, Taurus X
Hyundai Santa Fe
Audi A3, A4
Honda CR-V, Element
*With optional stability control
**Built after August 2007
***Built after December 2007
Stability control is key Ford was represented on the list by the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable passenger cars with optional ESC, and the Ford Edge, Ford Taurus X and Lincoln MKX midsize sport-utility vehicles. The Volvo S80, C70 midsize convertible and XC90 SUV, part of Ford's Volvo unit, made the list.
Ford has said previously that it would put stability control on its entire lineup by the end of 2009.
Honda and its Acura unit had seven vehicles on the list: the Honda Accord, Odyssey, Pilot, CR-V and Element, and the Acura MDX and RDX SUVs. Honda has had stability control on all SUVs, pickups and minivans since the 2007 model year and the technology is now standard on the Accord.Electronic stability control senses when a driver may lose control of the vehicle and automatically applies brakes to individual wheels to help keep it stable and avoid a rollover. The technology helps motorists avoid skidding across slick roads or keep control of their cars when swerving to avoid an unexpected object in the road.
Subaru and Hyundai each had four vehicles on the list: the Subaru Legacy and Impreza with optional ESC, Subaru Tribeca and Forester with ESC; the Hyundai Entourage, and the Hyundai Santa Fe and Veracruz built after August 2007. Kia, a subsidiary of Hyundai, had the Sedona minivan on the list.
Safety improving all around Pickup trucks were eligible to win for the first time this year because the institute conducted side-impact tests on many models. The Toyota Tundra, which has standard stability control and side air bags, was the first pickup truck to receive the insurance institute's designation.
Toyotaalso had the Highlander SUV on the list, while Volkswagen's Audi subsidiary was represented by the A3, A4 and A6 passenger cars.
With the advent of multiple air bags, most vehicles score a "good" rating on the institute's frontal crash tests. Differences in rear and side crashes now make the difference between those that make the Top Safety Pick list and those that don't.
The institute said Toyota could have had 10 more vehicles on the list and Volkswagen could have added four if they had improved seat and head restraint designs, important in protecting against whiplash injuries in rear-end crashes.
Toyotaspokesman Bill Kwong said its 2008 vehicles have active headrests, which move closer to the backs of a motorist's head in rear-end crashes. Kwong said it provides a "great level of safety for the customer in the real world." A message was left with a Volkswagen spokesman.
Other vehicles to make the list included: Saab 9-3, BMW X3 and X5, Mercedes M-Class and the Saturn Vue built after December 2007. (Saturn will incorporate changes to side air bag design that improve the test results, the IIHS said.)
The institute said the awards help consumers compare vehicles without having to review results from multiple tests.
Visit www.Greshamford.com to view the trucks that lead the safest cars on the road.