The Car Coach: What does a 5-star safety rating mean?
The New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) rates vehicles to determine crash worthiness and rollover safety. The safety ratings are gathered during controlled crash and rollover tests conducted at NHTSA’s research facilities. Lauren Fix, the Car Coach, takes a closer look.
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The 5-Star Safety Ratings System was initiated in 1978 to measure the level of increased safety for vehicle occupants in frontal crashes. Side crash rating results were added with 1997 model year vehicles and rollover assessments with 2001 models. This is a program that encourages manufacturers to voluntarily design safer vehicles by giving them safety ratings that can be used by consumers to compare vehicles when shopping for a new car.
It's simple: More Stars equal Safer Cars. Five stars indicate the highest safety rating and one star the lowest. While the safety feature ratings may differ among vehicles, all automobiles must first meet Federal standards.
Each year, NHTSA rates a sample of new vehicles that are predicted to have high sales volume, those that have been structurally redesigned, or those with improved safety equipment. Tested vehicles are purchased from dealerships across the country; the vehicles are not supplied directly to NHTSA by the manufacturer, a common misconception.
For the 2011 model year, NHTSA estimates 60 percent of the light vehicle fleet will be rated. Though NHTSA is unable to rate every car, all vehicles sold in the U.S. must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Starting with 2011 models, NHTSA has introduced tougher tests and rigorous new 5-Star Safety Ratings that provide more information about vehicle safety and crash avoidance technologies. Because of the more stringent tests, ratings for 2011 and newer vehicles should not be compared to ratings for 1990-2010 models. Overall vehicle score and frontal crash ratings should ONLY be compared to other vehicles of similar size and weight.
5-Star Safety Ratings can be found on SaferCar.gov and are posted on the Monroney labels (window stickers) that are required to be displayed on all new vehicles.