The importance of car safety can’t be underestimated. Every time you’re at the wheel of a vehicle there’s the risk of a collision and in Britain there are thousands of minor and major accidents on a daily basis.
Every year, car manufacturers look to improve upon their safety standards by bringing new technology and features to the forefront of design. As such, they place a huge emphasis on ensuring their new releases are much safer than the previous generation.
Thanks to supreme innovation in the automotive world, the number of casualties and fatalities in the UK has been dropping for decades and although nowadays there’s a small increase every now and then, in general the roads are much safer than they once were.
In 2015 it’s estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 people will be killed on UK roads – On top of 20,000 people suffering from severe injuries. For this very reason, the vehicle’s ability to protect themselves and their passengers is an important factor when it comes down to buying.
There aren’t many motorists around who aren’t affected by safety standards, which of course encourages the manufacturers to invest even more time and money into this side of the build. Therefore, to assess the safety of each vehicle and provide buyers with expert advice on what are the best performing manufacturers and models, we have the Euro NCAP ratings.
The Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) is the organisation responsible for testing the safety of vehicles. Its only job is to assess this aspect of a vehicle, rather than other features such as performance or fuel efficiency.
NCAP ratings have only been accessible for the last 18 years or so, first launched in 1997. Before these were brought to the automotive industry, customers instead relied only on word of mouth and reputation.
Of course, the Euro NCAP has solved this problem. They work as an independent organisation to assess the safety of vehicles and carry out a range of stringent tests. Ratings are then awarded from one to five stars – with five stars only being given to those deemed the safest.
Unfortunately, not every car can be tested and instead it’s typically the mass-market vehicles that receive an NCAP rating as they’re the biggest selling.
There are a number of tests carried out on a vehicle to measure its safety standards and these are typically designed to reflect real-world incidents as much as possible. In recent years these tests have even been adapted to reflect the inclusion of better safety technology such as automatic braking and speed assistance.
The chances are you may have seen videos of certain NCAP safety tests. Wired-up, human-sized dummies are used to measure and record what would happen in the event of a collision, including the impact on infants in child seats.
One of the first tests carried out for an NCAP rating is the frontal impact. Essentially, the vehicle ploughs into a barrier at 40mph and the effects are measures. Safety standards that would be expected to perform in this instance or seatbelts, airbags and the structural stability of the vehicle.
It’s not just frontal impacts you should be aware of when out on the road and NCAP also test what impact a car hitting the side of your vehicle would have. Injuries to the dummies will be recorded as part of the overall NCAP safety score.
This test works similarly to the car-to-car-side test, but with the vehicle moving instead. The test is designed to replicate the real-life scenario of losing control of the vehicle and skidding into a tree or lamppost. In testing, the pole usually comes into contact in line with the doors.
NCAP safety standards aren’t solely designed to test the impacts on passengers, but also in the event a pedestrian is struck. Therefore, there are test simulations for this scenario too and a score is given for how the pedestrian fares in a collision.
Child safety is also an important factor in NCAP ratings and the vehicle’s ability to securely fasten a child seat will be examined. A child-like dummy is used to replicate an 18-month-old and injuries assessed.
Whiplash is the biggest claim of injury against insurers and is one of the contributing factors in the premiums of car insurance being so expensive. The sudden movement of the neck in the event of harsh braking or a collision causes whiplash, so safety tests are conducted to assess this.
As well as the overall safety of the vehicle, included features will also be put to the test to determine how one model differs from another. Some of the key features that will be under scrutiny include seatbelt warning signals, emergency braking and electronic stability control. Each is designed to protect the driver and passengers.
After all tests have been completed by Euro NCAP, the results are published on their website for the world to see. Manufacturers will then include these ratings in the specs of their vehicle.
Results will be split into sections, so you can easily find how each model fared depending on the test, from frontal impact to whiplash injuries. However, for those who don’t want to filter through pages of information and scores, an overall rating is produced between one and five stars.
Interestingly though, NCAP scores aren’t comparable. For instance, just because one vehicle may have a five star review and another just three stars, it’s not necessarily the case that the five star car is safer.
This is because vehicles are assessed specific to the class they fall under. As such, an SUV wouldn’t be judged in the same light as a small city car. Taller cars are also expected to better protect the passengers in the event of an impact, so a three-star 4x4 may offer greater safety than a five-star city vehicle.
As such, even if your vehicle didn’t receive a five-star rating there’s little reason to be concerned. Nowadays, vehicles are built to brilliant safety standards and you’re much better protected than cars manufactured in the nineties.
Euro NCAP is also creating tougher tests for vehicles as safety standards move up a gear, so the chances are your vehicle could have received a five-star rating a few years ago.