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What is the Importance of Car Safety Ratings?

Posted on: January 14, 2021

There are many features to consider when buying a car; brand, budget, color, and design typically top the list of criteria. However, there is another feature that is often overlooked despite its importance, namely a car’s safety rating. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States. According a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistical projection of traffic fatalities for 2019, an estimated 36,560 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes that year alone.

By referencing car safety ratings, drivers can choose safer cars that will help them avoid crashes and protect them in the event of a car accident. For those who are involved in a motor vehicle accident, an experienced car accident lawyer can provide valuable assistance for the victim and their family.

History of Car Safety Ratings and Standards

Since the NHTSA was established in 1970 with the goal of reducing motor vehicle crashes, vehicle ratings have come a long way. Using crash test dummies, researchers began testing and rating vehicles for frontal and side crash protection, as well as for resistance to rollover crashes. In 2010, the NHTSA introduced a list of recommended safety technologies, which has been updated over the past decade to include features such as rearview video systems and automatic emergency braking systems.

The NHTSA urges consumers to keep safety in mind during the buying process and offers a Vehicle Comparison Tool on its website to help them make better choices when it comes to buying a new car. The current NHTSA Five-Star Safety Ratings program evaluates vehicle performance during frontal, side, and rollover crash tests, the types of crashes that account for the majority of car accidents. The more stars a car has been awarded, the safer it is.

What Types of Tests are Conducted for Car Safety Ratings?

To see how vehicles perform in crashes, the NHTSA conducts crash tests simulating the three most common types of real-word crashes in the United States. It then publishes the results of those tests on its website for consumers to access. However, the NHTSA is not the only agency that conducts tests related to passenger injury; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) does as well. The IIHS is an independent, nonprofit organization with the same mission as the NHTSA to reduce losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes.

However, rather than the star-based system used by the NHTSA, the IIHS evaluates vehicles based on ratings of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor. It also conducts different tests than the NHTSA. To determine a vehicle’s crashworthiness, the IIHS uses six tests, which are the moderate overlap front, driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, side, roof strength, head restraints, and seat tests. Vehicles that perform the best in IIHS testing are labeled Top Safety Picks and published on its website each year.

Crash Protection and Rollover Safety

Because the NHTSA and the IIHS conduct different tests, consumers have the opportunity to consult both and compare. It is best to look for a vehicle that provides life-saving protection and mitigates the risk of injury in all types of crashes. Drivers can best safeguard themselves and others on the road by choosing a vehicle that is rated five stars and one that is also a Top Safety Pick.

The NHTSA and the IIHS test vehicles for crash protection and rollover safety in these three common scenarios:

Frontal crashes. Frontal or head-on collisions are one of the most dangerous types of car accidents, as they often result in serious or fatal injuries. This type of crash occurs when two vehicles collide head-on, or when one driver collides with a stationary object such as a utility pole. As part of its Five-Star Ratings system, the NHTSA tests this type of scenario and evaluates the level of injury to the crash dummy’s head, neck, chest, and leg.

The IIHS conducts additional frontal crash tests to simulate situations in which a driver collides with a barrier at different impact points when traveling at approximately 40 miles per hour. The moderate overlap test evaluates injuries when a vehicle collides with a barrier and 40 percent of the impact occurs on the driver side. The driver-side small overlap test replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object. In this situation, 25 percent of the total width of the vehicle strikes a five-foot-tall barrier on the driver side. Finally, the passenger-side small overlap test evaluates the impact of a frontal crash in which the vehicle strikes a barrier on the passenger side.

Side crashes. The sides of a vehicle are not as protected as the front and rear ends; therefore, side-impact crashes can be deadly. They account for approximately one quarter of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in the United States, according to the IIHS.

The NHTSA side barrier and side pole crash test scenarios simulate situations in which drivers collide with the side of another vehicle or skid sideways and crash into a fixed object. The IIHS also conducts side barrier and side pole crash tests to evaluate driver and passenger injury, head protection, and vehicle structural performance during T-bone crashes with both moving barriers and fixed objects.

Rollovers. The NHTSA reports that rollover accidents are far more likely to result in fatalities than other types of car accidents. Although rollover accidents are not common, they account for approximately 30 percent of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities, according to the NHTSA. The NHTSA’s rollover resistance test scenario determines the top-heaviness of a vehicle and whether it is vulnerable to tipping over in a severe driving maneuver.

The IIHS also conducts a roof strength test to see how well vehicles protect occupants in rollover accidents. The strength of a vehicle’s weight is determined by measuring the amount of force required to crush the roof by five inches. According to the IIHS, good roof strength ratings are given to vehicles that withstand a force of at least four times their weight before the angled metal plate crushes its roof by five inches.

Driver Assistance Technologies to Enhance Safety

To further reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, the NHTSA recommends purchasing vehicles with certain driver assistance technologies and safety equipment, such as the following systems:

  • Forward collision warning
  • Lane departure warning
  • Rearview video system
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Air bags
  • Seat belts
  • Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS)

What Should I Do if I am Injured in a Car Accident in New Jersey?

Under New Jersey’s no-fault auto insurance system, those injured in car accidents must first turn to their own insurance company for compensation, up to the policy limits. However, if a car accident plaintiff can meet the serious injury threshold, they may be able to file a personal injury claim against an at-fault driver to recover additional damages such as pain and suffering.

New Jersey follows the modified comparative fault rule when it comes to determining liability in car accidents. Therefore, plaintiffs who were partially at fault for their accident may still recover damages; however, their compensation award will be reduced by a percentage amount that is equal to their percentage of fault. This rule only applies to those who are 50 percent or less at fault; if a plaintiff is more than 50 percent responsible for the accident, he or she may not receive any compensation.

It is important to file a personal injury claim within the proscribed statute of limitations, which is two years in New Jersey. Failure to do so may render a plaintiff ineligible for compensation. An experienced car accident lawyer can help ensure that all legal deadlines and requirements are met to present a strong case and recover the maximum compensation.

Freehold Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Fight for Injured Accident Victims

If you were injured in a car accident, contact the Freehold car accident lawyers at Ellis Law. You may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages related to your injuries. We will work tirelessly on your behalf to achieve a successful outcome. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. 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.