Ford Edge (© Ford Motor Company)Click to enlarge picture

Eight vehicles from Ford Motor Company, including the Edge, are Top Safety Picks.

Car shoppers certainly have a number of priorities in mind when purchasing, and safety is typically high on their lists. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives shoppers additional information to ponder. Late in 2007, the IIHS named 36 vehicles from model-year 2008 to its list of Top Safety Picks — 23 more than last year.

A research and communications organization funded by auto insurers, the IIHS conducts 40-mph offset frontal crash tests, side-impact crash tests and rear crash tests each year on a selection of new models. The vehicles on the Safety Picks list had the best performance in all three tests. In 2007 the IIHS added the requirement that a vehicle must also have Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to be considered as a Top Safety Pick.

View Pictures:  This Year's Top Safety Picks

"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 Institute President Adrian Lund. According to Lund, "If all vehicles were equipped with ESC, as many as 10,000 fatal crashes could be avoided each year."

This Year's Selection
The IIHS's Top Safety Picks were chosen from among current models of cars, minivans, SUVs, and for the first time, pickup trucks. Trucks were added this year as the IIHS began testing them for side-impact protection. "Pickups are among the top selling vehicles in the United States," Lund pointed out. "They're also more likely than in the past to be used as family vehicles, so equipping them with the latest safety features is important."

The Toyota Tundra was the only truck to qualify for the Top Picks list, with side airbags and stability control as standard equipment.

How much more would you pay for a safer car?

The IIHS initially tagged 34 vehicles in eight categories as Top Safety Picks, but two more have been added since the study first came out. While there were no domestic-brand vehicles among the Top Picks last year, seven domestic models made the grade for 2008. These include the Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable, Ford Edge, Ford Taurus X, Lincoln MKX, Saturn Vue and Cadillac CTS.

On adding the CTS to the list in January, Lund said: "All luxury cars should perform as well as the CTS, it's a leader in its class for safety. Frontal crashworthiness has improved dramatically for all cars in recent years, but there are still significant differences in how vehicles perform in our side and rear tests."

Ford Motor Company (including the Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo divisions) had the most vehicles on the list with eight; seven winners are from Honda and its premium brand Acura.