What do car crash tests reveal?

When you are looking at cars it’s always recommended that you look at the safety rating above anything else. After all, you want your car to keep you as safe as possible.

In the UK and Europe, we use an NCAP rating. The Euro NCAP has saved over 78,000 lives since the their tests were introduced. Around 1,800 cars have been tested and over 630 safety ratings were published. 9 out of 10 cars sold on the European market hold an NCAP rating meaning that the NCAP ratings are the most highly regarded in the UK and Europe.

But, what actually happens during these NCAP tests? And, what do their ratings reveal? Crash tests are one of those things that everyone knows happens, but do we really know much about them?

In this article, we look at what a crash test entails, how the ratings work, and some of the safest cars on our roads today.

What is the Euro NCAP?

Firstly, what is the Euro NCAP?

The Euro NCAP is an independent crash test safety body. Euro NCAP stands for European New Car Assessment Programme.

The current safety regime of the NCAP includes a dual rating. This means that all cars will receive an overall rating based on the standard amount of safety tech fitted to every trim level but there will be a second optional rating depending on whether they have extra safety technology. So, for example, if a car comes with a safety pack.

When did we first start crash testing cars?

Interestingly, we didn’t start crash testing cars in the UK until the 90s. In America, however, the first crash test company was set up in 1979. This was the New Car Assessment Program.

The European New Car Assessment Programme was founded in 1996 and the first comparative crash tests were published in 1997. However, car makers weren’t happy. They claimed that the Euro NCAP tests were unfair and too harsh. But, like most things that benefit us in the long run, they came round to the idea and now compete to see who can get the highest safety rating. There are worst things to be competitive about.

While there have been many who have helped advance car safety and safety innovation, many credit the Euro NCAP as being at the forefront of safety technology innovation and ensuring that cars are as safe as they can be.

What happens during a crash test?

So, what actually happens during these Euro NCAP tests?

There are four categories, and each category is given a percentage rating.

Adult Occupant Protection

The Adult Occupant Protection rating is based on crash scenarios that simulate the following;

  • Frontal impact (off-set and ‘head-on’)
  • Crashing side-on into a moving object
  • Hitting a fixed object (such as a lamp post or telegraph pole)

They also consider whiplash protection and the effectiveness of Autonomous Braking Systems.

Child Occupant Protection

This section is based on three things; 

  • The protection provided by child restraint systems (in front and side impacts)
  • The ability to accommodate restraints of all shapes and sizes
  • Provisions within the vehicle that ensure safe use of child seats including;
    • ISOFIX child seat anchorages
    • Airbag deactivation systems

Pedestrian Protection

This is done by assessing the risk of injuries to the head, pelvis and legs from various points in the front of the car. This includes the bonnet and windscreen, bonnet edge and bumper. The car will score more points if the Autonomous Emergency Braking systems reduce the injury.

Safety Assist

The Euro NCAP monitors all safety technology that comes as standard in the car. This includes things such as;

  • Seatbelt reminders
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Speed limiters and/or warnings
  • Lane Departure Warnings
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking

And anything else that comes as standard in the car.

So, that’s what a crash test involves. You can watch a video of the Ford Mustang going through the Euro NCAP test below (they also have more videos on their YouTube channel). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0StTHnTKK8

What do the Euro NCAP ratings mean?

Once the car has been tested in each category, it will be rated accordingly. These ratings will then be put into an overall rating, which is what the stars are for. While it’s easy to say 5 stars is good and 1 star is bad, what do they actually mean in terms of safety?

5 Stars

5 Stars means that there is overall good performance in terms of crash protection. It also means that the car is well equipped with safety technology.

4 Stars

4 Stars means it has overall good crash protection and that there may be crash protection technology present.

3 Stars

3 Stars means it has average to good crash protection. However, it is lacking in crash avoidance technology.

2 Stars

2 Stars means the car has nominal crash protection and is also lacking in safety technology.

1 Star

1 star doesn’t mean a car is unsafe. In fact, Euro NCAP refuse to award stars to models that do not meet current legal safety standards. So, a car with 1 star Euro NCAP rating is still safe, but it has marginal crash protection and does not have safety technology.

How to compare car safety

If you are looking at a few cars, you will probably want to compare their safety ratings. There will be some websites that tell you the Euro NCAP safety rating but others won’t. Instead, we recommend that you go to the Euro NCAP website directly.

Not only will it give you an overall safety rating, but it will also give you the results for each of the four categories. It will also tell you how it determined that rating.

However, it should be noted that in 2009, the Euro NCAP had a rule shake-up. This shake-up was so it could also include safety technology, such as Electronic Stability Control. This means that a car rated in 2008 or 2009 could have got a 5 star rating, but would now only have 4 stars because it doesn’t have the technology. This doesn’t mean it’s less-safe, it simply means that where the rules have changed, the ratings have changed.

So, when you are comparing cars make sure that you are getting a like-for-like comparison when it comes to the testing.

Which cars are the safest?

Now you know what the crash tests entail and how they are rated, what cars are the safest? The Euro NCAP have named the safest cars in each category for 2015 and 2016, and you can see them below;[vc_single_image image=”49692″ img_size=”article-image”]


Interestingly, the Volvo XC90 is the safest car the Euro NCAP has tested to date. Though you could argue this is unsurprising as Volvo are known for their safety and hope to eliminate fatalities through crashes in their cars by 2020.

If you’re looking for a second-hand car, then the following are the Euro NCAP’s safest cars from the last five years;

Hopefully this has given you an idea of how crash tests work, what the Euro NCAP is and how their crash tests work and are rated, as well as some of the safest cars on the market today.

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