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Euro NCAP crash testing – How to Read the Stars

August 13, 2017

Euro NCAP Safety Star Rating
Euro NCAP Safety Star Rating Explained

The following is meant as a comprehensive guide to understand how the Euro NCAP safety star rating works

For the last 20 years, the Euro NCAP has been regarded as the comprehensive benchmark for the level of safety of new cars in Europe and the world over.

Euro NCAP is a voluntary vehicle safety rating system which originated in the UK but is now backed by the European Commission as well as motoring and consumer organisations in every EU country. The Euro NCAP programme was introduced in 1997 and was modelled after the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), introduced 1979 by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The idea behind the Euro NCAP rating system is to help consumers to compare vehicles more easily and to help them identify the safest choice for their needs. A star safety rating is obtained from a series of vehicle tests, designed and carried out by Euro NCAP.

The NCAP tests, even though simplified, represent common real-life accident situations that could result in injury or death of the car occupants or other parties involved in the accident. Ranked from 1 to 5, the number of stars reflects how well the car performs in Euro NCAP tests – the higher the star rating the safer the car is deemed to be.

Euro NCAP Safety Star Rating
Euro NCAP Safety | Typical frontal crash test depicted

It is important to note that the NCAP star rating is a much higher standard than what is legally set by regulators for vehicle manufacturers. In other words, a car that just meets the minimum legal demands in terms of regulations would not necessarily be eligible for any NCAP stars. But is does not mean a poorly rated car is automatically unsafe – it’s just not deemed as safe as its competitors that received a higher star rating.

Over the intervening years, the crash test procedures have been continually made tougher as older technology matures and new innovations become available. Recently, the inclusion of developing crash avoidance technology has significantly altered the meaning of the stars. The testing now also includes a range of different collision scenarios and requirements related to occupant and pedestrian protection.

The Ratings Explained (Post 2009)

In 2009 the Euro NCAP was significantly revised and an ‘Overall safety rating’ was introduced to add more ‘flexibility’ to the rating system.

This new rating system awarded more of the overall score to ‘pedestrian protection’ as Euro NCAP engineers were concerned that car manufacturers were too focused on occupant safety rather than the safety of those outside the vehicle.

The NCAP ‘Overall safety rating’ is based on an assessment in four (4) important areas (18 Basic tests). Test cars are given a percentage value for each assessment area according to points scored in each category’s testing. The percentage values are then used to award a safety rank of up to five stars:

Euro NCAP Safety Star Rating
Euro NCAP Safety | The four (4) current assessment areas (Percentages as for typical car)

Assessment Area 1 – Adult protection (for the driver and passenger)

The Adult Occupant Protection rating is based on six (6) crash scenarios that simulate the following:

  • Offset-Deformable Barrier (Frontal crash into an aluminium barrier at 64 km/h)
  • Full Width Rigid Barrier (Frontal crash at 50 km/h into a rigid barrier)
  • Side Mobile Barrier
  • Side Pole (Side pole impact at 32 km/h)
  • Whiplash (Protection against whiplash in the event of a rear-end collision)
  • Automatic Emergency Braking – City (AEB to reduce the speed of any collisions with vehicles and pedestrians or to avoid them completely)

Assessment Area 2 – Child protection

This score is based on three (3) factors, namely:

  • CRS Performance (Protection provided by child restraint systems in front and side impacts)
  • Vehicle Provisions (The ability to accommodate child restraints of different sizes and design)
  • CRS Installation Check (provisions within the vehicle that facilitate safe use of child seats – eg: ISOFIX child seat anchorages & airbag deactivation systems.)

Assessment Area 3 – Pedestrian protection

The safety of new cars from a pedestrian’s point of view is determined by assessing four (4) areas of concern. The risk of injuries to head, pelvis and legs from various front-end structures of a car eg: bonnet, windscreen and bumper are taken into account as well as how ‘Autonomous Emergency Braking’ systems might lessen or prevent the injury.

  • Head impact
  • Upper Leg Impact
  • Lower Leg Impact
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking – Pedestrian

Assessment Area 4 – Safety Assist technologies

This score is assembled from five (5) modern driver assistance technologies that Euro NCAP has determined as offering the greatest level of safety.

  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Seatbelt Reminders
  • Speed Assistance (Pertaining to limiters & warnings)
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking – Interurban
  • Lane Support (Intelligent assistance to change a lane)

NCAP Star Ratings

The following provides some guidance as to what safety performance the stars refer to in today’s system:

5 Stars Safety Rating:

Overall good performance in crash protection. Well equipped with robust crash avoidance technology

4 Stars Safety Rating:

Overall good performance in crash protection; additional crash avoidance technology may be present

3 Stars Safety Rating:

Average to good occupant protection but lacking crash avoidance technology

2 Stars Safety Rating:

Nominal crash protection but lacking crash avoidance technology

1 Star Safety Rating:

Marginal crash protection

Euro NCAP Safety Star Rating
Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Program)

Comparing scores

It’s not always appropriate to make a direct comparison between various cars tested.

For one, the fact that NCAP tests are constantly revised and made more stringent to keep up with advancing technologies, cars tested in different years are not always comparable. For example, a model tested before 2009 when ‘Overall safety rating’ was introduced, might have scored five stars purely on the basis of good scores in the impact tests. However, if the same model was tested under the new rules only a few months later, it might have scored only four stars due to lacking Electronic Stability Control for instance. This means you need to make sure you’re comparing similar NCAP test regimes when looking at the scores of different models. It is usually best to only compare cars tested in the same year.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Euro NCAP frontal impact tests simulates crashing a car into another of similar mass and structure. This means that the ratings can only be meaningfully compared between cars of the same type and size.

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