How does car safety testing work?

August 23 2018


Did you know that the United States averages 6 million car accidents annually? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a small portion of these accidents resulted in fatalities (around 37,000) in 2016, thanks in part to car safety testing. 

Performed by the NHTSA and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), crash tests play a huge role in keeping accident-related fatalities, injuries and property damage to a minimum. 

NHTSA Crash Testing

The NHTSA uses a five-star system to evaluate approximately 90 to 150 automobiles each year, with a focus on vehicles that are debuting or have undergone a major redesign. Cars are tested under standardized conditions and rated in four areas: 

  • Frontal crash
  • Side barrier crash
  • Side pole
  • Rollover resistance

IIHS Crash Testing

Like the NHTSA, the IIHS tests newer vehicles, rating them in terms of crashworthiness and crash avoidance and mitigation. High-performing vehicles may also earn the Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ designation. Tests used to determine IIHS ratings include:

  • Driver's-side small-overlap front
  • Passenger-side small-overlap front
  • Moderate-overlap front
  • Side roof strength
  • Head restraints
  • Front crash prevention

A car may be rated "Poor," "Marginal," "Acceptable" or "Good" for crashworthiness and "Basic," "Advanced" or "Superior" for crash avoidance and mitigation features. IIHS also rates headlights and car seat anchors, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH).

Safety Changes

In previous years, front-seat passenger safety in small SUVs has been called into question, but recent tests show distinct improvements in this area. More enhancements are on the way, including improvements to seat belts and air bags.

Car safety testing gives manufacturers the opportunity to identify and fix any problems before the model is available to the public. That should give you some assurance when you head out for a drive. 

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