The Honda Insight and Toyota Prius received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s “Top Safety Pick” award based on front, side, and rear crash testing. The rating dispels the myth that high fuel efficiency always requires a compromise in terms safety.

To earn the Insurance Institute’s “Top Safety Pick,” a vehicle has to earn good ratings in all three tests—and must offer electronic stability control, which comes standard on all Prius models and on the Insight EX model. It’s available as on option on the less expensive Insight LX.

Honda Insight frontal crash test

Honda Insight frontal crash test

The Toyota Prius, a midsize sedan with a combined city/highway rating of 50 mpg, is the most fuel-efficient car on the market today. The Honda Insight has an average efficiency rating of 41 mpg.

The insurance group’s side test simulates a collision with an SUV or pickup truck moving at 31 mph. The frontal test mimics 40 mph crashes with vehicles of the same weight as the test car. The IIHS also simulates a stationary vehicle being rear-ended by a vehicle going 20 mph. Side crash test results apply no matter what size vehicles you are comparing, but front impact results are meaningful only when comparing models of about the same weight.

In the Prius’s front crash test, the driver dummy’s head hit the pillar between the front and back windows, but the impact was relatively low. The dummy’s head suffered slightly more of an impact when it hit the steering wheel through the air bag. In the Insight’s frontal test, the side curtain air bag prevented the dummy’s head from hitting any stiff structures, although there was a slight risk of rib fractures in the side impact test.

Small Cars Score Big for Safety

The IIHS gave top safety designations to 10 out of the 27 small cars that were tested. Other small cars with the top safety rating are the 2010 Kia Soul, 2009 Subaru Impreza, 2009 Scion xB, four-door 2009 Honda Civic, 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer, 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit, 2010 Toyota Corolla and two-door 2009 Ford Focus. In past testing, the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Smart ForTwo performed poorly in frontal crash tests with mid-sized vehicles.

“The latest results show that consumers who want good fuel economy can also get a high level of safety,” said institute spokesman Russ Rader. “Because there are so many small cars that test well, there’s no reason to settle for a small car with less-than-stellar safety ratings.”