As a part of its continued efforts to keep the roadways safe, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has updated its safety ratings system adding a new crash test as well as crash prevention technologies into its ratings. This new series of tests which starts with model year 2011 vehicles, is called the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), include a new "side pole" crash test. In this test, the vehicle is pulled sideways into a stationary pole to simulate a side collision with objects like trees, light posts, and telephone poles. This test combined with the traditional side-impact crash test forms the vehicle's side-crash rating.
The new scoring system keeps the NHTSA's traditional 1 to 5 star rating system, with 1 star being the lowest and 5 stars being the highest. Each car tested receives a rating between 1 and 5 stars for frontal crashes, side crashes, and rollover resistance. These scores are now combined under the new system to give each car an overall safety rating. NCAP standards have been raised for 2011 to make it more difficult for vehicles to achieve a full 5-star safety rating - something that had become too easy in recent years.
"More stars equal safer cars," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood when introducing the new standards. "With our upgraded Five-Star Safety Ratings System, we're raising the bar on safety. Through new tests, better crash data, and higher standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers."
Cars tested under NCAP are selected at random off of dealer lots and taken to testing facilities. This ensures that the cars used in testing haven't been modified in any way and are identical to the cars the manufacturer is putting out on the road.
Due to the more stringent testing criteria, cars tested from 2011 and going forward should not be compared to cars tested under the previous standards. For example, in 2010 the Toyota Camry received a 5-star rating for front and side crashes, but under the new, stricter standards only receives a 3-star rating in those tests as well as a 3-star rating overall. That does not mean that the car is less safe than before, just that it didn't perform as well under the new testing criteria.
Something to keep in mind - just because a car receives only one or two stars doesn't mean it's unsafe - the government maintains minimum standards that will not allow unsafe cars on the road. The NHTSA ratings are meant to be a guide for you to choose your next new car, if safety and crashworthiness are prime considerations for you and your family.
Of the 2011 models currently tested, only six have earned the full 5-star rating: the BMW 5-series, Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia, Honda Accord, and the Hyundai Sonata. To see a full list of tested models and safety ratings, as well as videos of their crash tests and the latest car safety news, head over to www.SaferCar.gov.