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How can I Check My Vehicle’s Crash Test Safety Rating?

Posted on: September 28, 2020

Consumers consider a number of factors when purchasing a new vehicle, including cost, fuel efficiency, size, and the vehicle’s safety rating. Although consumers can easily obtain information about a car’s fuel economy, its cargo capacity, and whether it comes equipped with the latest safety technology, information about crash test scores may not always be available to the public. Depending on the vehicle, consumers cannot access important information about how a car or SUV performs in a range of crash test scenarios.

In most cases, it is low-volume models such as sports cars and luxury SUVs that do not have crash test ratings available. Fortunately, approximately 97 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States are crash test rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and/or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). If a new vehicle has not been tested by either one of these independent agencies, consumers may want to consider a different vehicle, or holding off until the vehicle gets tested.

According to Consumer Reports, the reason why certain vehicles do not get tested is due to the high cost. The NHTSA and IIHS cannot afford to test all vehicles, so they prioritize the testing based on car sales volume and testing budgets. For example, the NHTSA and IIHS does not test any cars manufactured by Jaguar, Land Rover, or Porsche. Although these three automakers represent over 185,000 of the half-million new vehicles in the United States that are not tested, this is a small percentage of the total number of new cars in the United States each year. A NHTSA spokesperson told Consumer Reports that, when determining which vehicles to test, the agency chooses those that are likely to have high sales volume, structural or design changes from the previous year, and/or improved safety equipment. In addition, a spokesperson for IIHS reports that the institute typically does not test high-end vehicles, including sports cars and large SUVs. The IIHS tests vehicles that appeal to a larger percentage of the consumer market.

How Does the NHTSA Test Determine Safety Ratings?

The NHTSA uses a Five-Star Safety Ratings system, which was developed in 1993 to help consumers make more informed decisions when buying a new car. In 2010, the agency updated its crash test scoring process, adding more injury parameters, additional tests, and including data from dummies that represent a wider population of passengers instead of just an average-sized adult male. As a result, a four- or five-star rating is now much more difficult to earn. The following are key components of the NHTSA’s updated crash ratings:

  • A single overall safety score will include results from front, side, and rollover tests.
  • A small adult female dummy will be used in the 35-mph full frontal crash test instead of the average male-sized dummy in the passenger seat.
  • Additional measures for chest deflection, neck extension, and leg and foot injuries were included in the test score.
  • The side impact crash includes data from the chest, as well as data from the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis. In addition, a fifth percentile female dummy is used in the back seat, instead of a 50th percentile male dummy.
  • A small adult female dummy is used in a sideways into pole test that was newly added.

The following tests are conducted by the NHTSA:

  • Frontal crash test: This tests the vehicle’s crashworthiness in the event of a head-on collision. Two crash test dummies are used, including one that represents an average-sized male and one that represents a small-sized female. The male dummy is in the driver’s seat, and the female dummy is in the passenger seat. Both are secured by seat belts during each test.
  • Side barrier crash test: This test uses a 3,015-pound barrier to crash into the side of a test vehicle at a speed of 38.5 mph. The test is meant to simulate a side impact collision that can occur when a vehicle fails to yield or stop at an intersection. An average-sized male dummy is placed in the driver’s seat, and a small-size female dummy is in the back seat directly behind the driver.
  • Side pole crash test: This test simulates an accident where a driver crashes into a utility pole or some other stationary object. The test vehicle is pulled at 20 mph at a 75-degree angle into a nine and one-half inch diameter pole. In this test, a small-size female dummy is in the driver’s seat.
  • Rollover resistance test: This measures a vehicle’s risk of rolling over while driving on the highway. It uses a Static Stability Factor, which determines the vehicle’s center of gravity and the likelihood of rolling over if the driver loses control of the vehicle. No crash test dummies are used in this test, as the test does not involve crashing the car.

How Does the IIHS Rate Vehicles for Safety?

IIHS is a non-profit organization funded by the insurance industry. Like the NHTSA, the IIHS tests vehicles that have a high sales volume or have newly updated safety features. The agency gives ratings of Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor. Vehicles that score Good ratings in driver’s side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head resistant crash tests earn the coveted Top Safety Pick+, the agency’s highest rating. The vehicle must also earn a Good rating for headlights, and a Good or Acceptable rating for the passenger side small overlap test. Top Safety Pick awards are given to vehicles that earn the same ratings as the Top Safety Pick+ but scored only an Acceptable rating for headlights.

According to a spokesperson at an IIHS test facility, consumers should consider only vehicles that have at least four stars from the NHTSA, and a Good or Top Safety Pick from IIHS. The IIHS conducts the following tests:

  • Driver’s side small overlap front: This test involves a test vehicle being driven into a five-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph, hitting it with 25 percent of the vehicle’s front width. This simulates a car hitting a tree, phone pole, or other static object. An average-size male test dummy is in the driver’s seat.
  • Passenger side small overlap front: The only difference between this test and the driver’s side small overlap front test is that two average-sized male test dummies are used. One is in the driver’s seat, and the other is in the passenger seat.
  • Moderate overlap front: In this test, a vehicle is driven into a barrier travelling at a speed of 40 mph, hitting the barrier with 40 percent of its front width on the driver’s side. This simulates a head-on collision involving two cars that are approximately the same weight. An average-size male dummy is in the driver’s seat.
  • Side impact: A test vehicle’s driver’s side is hit by a 3,300-pound test barrier at 31 mph. A small-size adult female dummy is in the driver’s seat, and a dummy that represents a 12-year-old child is in the back seat behind the driver.
  • Roof strength: A large metal plate is used to crush the roof by five inches, and the strength-to-weight ratio is then calculated by IIHS. The more force needed to crush the roof, the less likely it is that the car would rollover.
  • Head restraints: This simulates a rear-end collision in which a static vehicle is hit from behind at 20 mph. This test uses advanced safety dummies; the force that is exerted on the driver’s neck and spine is recorded and logged.

What if My Vehicle Has Not Been Tested?

If someone owns a vehicle that does not have a crash test rating, or they want to purchase a car that the NHTSA or IIHS does not test, this does not necessarily mean that the car is unsafe. All vehicles must meet minimum federal safety standards, whether or not they have public crash-test ratings. Car manufacturers may not sell new vehicles until they provide their own crash test information for the NHTSA to review and ensure that they are in compliance with federal standards. The IIHS does not test Mercedes-Benz vehicles, but a spokesperson from the car manufacturer told Consumer Reports that the company performs up to 15,000 crash simulations and approximately 150 vehicle crash tests to ensure that new vehicles are safe for customers. The NHTSA will occasionally conduct random tests on vehicles such as Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Land Rover, and others that are not part of its rating program to make sure that they are in compliance with federal standards.

Freehold Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Represent Victims of All Types of Car Accidents

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a car accident, and the other vehicle had a poor safety rating, do not hesitate to contact the Freehold car accident lawyers at Ellis Law. Our dedicated and experienced legal team will conduct a thorough investigation into the events leading up to the accident and determine who is responsible for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.