NHTSA Crash Safety Ratings Explained: Everything You Need to Know

NHTSA Crash Safety Ratings Explained: Everything You Need to Know

When you’re shopping for your next car, one of the most important factors to consider is how safe it is. Thankfully, there are several organizations that test and evaluate the safety ratings of vehicles, including the federal government’s own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This article takes a closer look at NHTSA’s tests, ratings, and what they mean for you as a driver. 

About the NHTSA

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the government’s very own agency that was created to help reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on US roadways. It was established in 1970 as part of the US Department of Transportation (DoT) and is responsible for setting and enforcing safety standards on auto makers’ vehicles and equipment. 

Why are Crash Safety Ratings Important?

Early estimations show traffic fatalities for 2022 totaling over 42,000 deaths in the United States, marking it as a significant cause of death for many Americans. With this in mind, it should be a priority for many buyers to choose a vehicle designed and built with an emphasis on safety. Crash safety ratings are an objective way to evaluate how well a vehicle will protect you in the event of an accident. 

Types of Crash Safety Ratings

The NHTSA assigns a star rating to vehicles based on their performance in several simulated crash scenarios. Each scenario measures how well the vehicle protects the driver and passengers from the most common car accident injuries. According to the car accident lawyers at Miller & Hine, common accident injuries include broken bones, internal injuries, spinal cord injuries, and more. There are several types of crash safety ratings to consider.

Frontal Crash Rating

This test evaluates how well a vehicle protects the driver and front passenger in a head-on collision between another vehicle of the same weight and a crash into a fixed barrier at 35 mph. Injuries to the head, neck, chest, and legs are taken into consideration. A 5 star rating correlates to the highest rating of protection.

Side Crash Rating

This metric evaluates how well the vehicle protects the driver and front passenger in a side impact, similar to an intersection type of collision. The NHTSA conducts this test by sending a 3,015 lb barrier at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. Injuries to the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis are observed for the driver, and rear passenger seat to determine the final rating. A 5 star rating indicates better safety performance.

Side Pole Crash Rating

For this test, a vehicle angled at 75 degrees is pulled into a pole at 20 mph into the driver’s seat location of the car. Injuries to the driver and front passenger’s head, chest, lower spine, abdomen, and pelvis are evaluated to give the vehicle a star rating with 5 being the highest. 

Rollover Resistance Rating

Just as it sounds, a vehicle’s rollover resistance is a test that determines how vulnerable a vehicle is to tipping over upon performing an evasive road maneuver. 5 stars correlates to the lowest risk of a rollover accident. 

Overall Rating

The overall rating considers the results of all the aforementioned tests. It ranges from 1 to 5 stars with 5 being the highest. 

Using Crash Ratings to Choose Your Next Car

Look for a vehicle with a high overall rating and high individual ratings for each crash test. You can check a vehicle’s ratings on the NHTSA website by inputting the vehicle’s year, make, and model. The site also provides valuable information on recommended safety technologies and their availability for that specific model. Additionally, it provides buyers with information on DoT investigations and consumer complaints for that vehicle’s make and model to help them make more informed decisions. 

Testing Limitations

Due to a limited budget, the NHTSA doesn’t test for rear end collisions and other common accident scenarios. The agency instead focuses efforts on accidents that commonly lead to the most injuries and deaths. It also doesn’t take into account rear passengers for many tests, an important factor for many buyers. It’s best for consumers to consider ratings and honest reviews done by various different sources, such as the IIHS, when making a final decision. 

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