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The safest convertibles for summer driving

June 23, 2016
Convertibles are fun summer vehicles, but are they safe?

There's few joys in life as exciting as a summer drive down an open road, and the experience is made even better in a convertible. These types of vehicles tend to be on the sporty side, with their most distinguishable feature being a retractable roof. Convertibles are certainly fun to drive and ride in, but they have a reputation for being less safe than hardtop cars.

"Convertibles are about as safe as most conventional cars.”

This stigma against convertibles may not be entirely warranted. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, convertibles aren't necessarily less safe than their hardtop counterparts. The IIHS found that in general, the death rate for passengers in convertibles is not much different than that of conventional cars. However, there are some caveats to the data. For one, there aren't a lot of convertibles on the road—they made up less than 4 percent of all vehicles in 2005. They are also driven approximately 10 to 15 percent less than other cars, according to the IIHS.

Convertibles have become almost as safe as typical cars since the 1980s, and safety improvements have continued to lower the death rate and reduce injuries. Still, if you're looking for the right convertible, it pays to be on the safe side. A number of automotive specialists have put together lists of the safest convertibles money can buy, and they are worth paying attention to if this is a primary concern.

Perennial favorite

Convertible cars have a long history in the tradition of American motoring, but few are as popular and distinctive as the MX-5 Miata from Japanese manufacturer Mazda. The Miata has dominated the convertible market for two decades now, and it's easy to see why. According to The Car Connection, the Miata ranks fairly high in safety ratings for a convertible, although it hasn't been tested by the IIHS or other safety organizations. The Miata is one of the most affordable open-top cars on the road. One of the only downsides is that it is technically a roadster, as it has just two seats.

American classic

One of the safest convertibles on the road also happens to be an icon of American automotive history. The Ford Mustang has been on the road in some form since 1962, and almost always available as a convertible. The Mustang is known for its legendary, powerful V8 engine, but these days comes in a less expensive, more fuel efficient V6 option. The IIHS gave the 2016 Mustang the best rating of the convertibles it tested, a good indication that the car would make a smart choice for safety-conscious drivers.

Choosing a safe car

Picking a convertible that's a safe bet isn't much different from choosing any other car. What's important is that the buyer understands what the safety features mean. Consumer Reports provided a helpful roundup of some of the most common and vital safety features, and what to look for when buying.

  • Standard features:  Airbags, anti-lock brakes and safety belts are all standard features on every car sold in the U.S. Many convertibles and other cars now also include systems like traction control or electronic stability control, which can keep the car from spinning out and potentially preventing an accident.
  • Extra features:  There are now a wide variety of optional or specialty safety features in many convertibles. Some now use sensors to detect distance in front or behind the car and automatically apply the brakes if the driver gets too close. Active head restraints that adjust instantly before an impact may also be helpful in a convertible.

Use these tips when searching for the perfect summer driving car this year.