How Important are Car Safety Ratings?

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There are a number of factors that people consider when purchasing a new car, including the outward appearance of the vehicle, gas mileage, horsepower, and the cost of the vehicle. However, one of the most important factors that consumers should weigh is how safe the vehicle is considered to be, and how well it is going to protect the vehicle occupants in the event of an accident. Whether the consumer is purchasing a sports car, a minivan, or a sports utility vehicle (SUV), safety should be a top priority. Fortunately, most newer vehicles are equipped with a range of safety features, including airbags, anti-lock brakes, and forward collision warning. However, not every vehicle protects vehicle occupants the same way if the vehicle is involved in a car accident. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct a range of tests that focus on passenger safety. This helps consumers make more informed decisions when purchasing a new car.

Both agencies conduct crash testing, but there are key differences for which consumers should be aware when researching a vehicle’s safety rating. In addition, the NHTSA and IIHS test only vehicles with higher volume sales, so consumers who are purchasing a vehicle that is not a high-volume seller will need to perform their own research to determine whether the car is safe. The NHTSA uses a five-star rating system. The more stars a vehicle is assigned, the safer it is likely to be. The IIHS assigns ratings of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor. The NHTSA tests for front collision, side impact, and simulated rollover, because these account for the majority of car accidents in the United States. The IIHS conducts five tests, including small overlap and moderate front tests, a side test, roof strength test, and overhead restraint and seat test. Consumers are urged to check ratings from both agencies, since each one conducts different tests.

According to the president of the IIHS, automakers understand that safety plays a major role in consumer choice. Significant safety improvements have been made over the past decade, and automakers are continuing to work with engineers to improve vehicle designs and keep vehicle occupants safe. When considering a new vehicle, the following factors can help consumers determine how safe a vehicle is going to be, and how well it will protect the occupants in a crash:

  • Car size: Generally speaking, the larger the vehicle, the safer it is likely to be. Larger cars are easier to see, since they are usually wider and taller than a small sports car. In addition, larger cars are better able to absorb the impact of a crash, which can help reduce the risk of serious injuries.
  • Car weight: Small cars are also lighter in weight compared with larger cars, trucks, and SUVs. That means they experience a higher crash force compared with a larger, heavier vehicle.
  • Car design: A well-designed car should protect the vehicle occupants in the event of an accident. For example, crumple zones are designed to absorb the force of impact if the vehicle is involved in an accident. Other design features that improve the safety of a vehicle include air bags, anti-lock brakes, blind spot warning, and forward collision warning.

What Factors Determine a Car’s Safety Rating?

There are a number of factors that the NHTSA and IIHS consider when determining a vehicle’s safety rating, including the following:

  • Crash tests: Both agencies conduct front- and side-impact crash tests. Since 2011, the NHTSA has made the crash tests more stringent, so models manufactured after 2011 are not comparable with those made prior to that time. In addition, the IIHS added a small-overlap front test in 2012, which simulates the driver side of a vehicle hitting an object such as a pole or a tree straight on.
  • Accident avoidance: Although it is important that a vehicle is effective at protecting the occupants in the event of a car accident, accident-avoidance technology can help prevent crashes from occurring in the first place. Braking and emergency handling are two of the most important accident-avoidance features.
  • Rollover resistance: SUVs and pickup trucks are more susceptible to rollovers since they have a higher center of gravity. The NHTSA offers a Rollover Resistance Rating (RRR) that is based on a vehicle’s Static Stability Factors (SSF), which determines the top heaviness of a vehicle based on its static measurement; and a dynamic rollover test, which simulates how the vehicle responds when a driver makes the type of extreme steering maneuvers that are often made in an emergency.
  • Roof strength: When a vehicle rolls over, a strong roof will be less likely to crush from the impact. This protects the vehicle occupants and reduces the risk of injuries.
  • Rear-impact protection: Rear-impact accidents often cause a range of injuries, including whiplash and other neck injuries. Vehicles should be equipped with the appropriate seats designs and head restraints. The IIHS performs dynamic rear-impact tests to determine how well different car models protect against whiplash.
  • Rear blind zones: SUVs, pickup trucks, and other larger vehicles have large blind zones, which can make it difficult for the driver to see children, bicycles, and other smaller vehicles, particularly when drivers are backing up. To check how the size of a vehicle’s blind spot, motorists can sit in the driver’s seat while the vehicle is parked. Another person can stand behind the car and hold out their hand at waist level and start to walk slowly backwards until the driver can see the person’s hand through the rear window.

What Safety Features Should I Look for When Buying a Car?

Although most consumers know about anti-lock brakes, airbags, and seat belts, there are a range of safety features for which people may not be aware, yet these features can help prevent accidents and reduce the risk of injuries. The following safety features are highly recommended and will likely result in a higher safety rating:

  • Structural soundness: Vehicles that are structurally sound are able to absorb and dissipate the impact of a crash and maintain their shape. Doors should remain closed at the moment of impact, and occupants should be able to easily open the doors after an accident.
  • Seat belts: Vehicles with retractable three-point sash-styled belts with pretensioners tend to receive higher ratings, as they are more effective at securing the occupants and protecting them from the force of impact in the event of a car accident. When worn properly, seat belts are extremely effective at protecting motorists from injuries or reducing the severity of injuries that can occur in a serious collision.
  • Anti-lock brake system: This system prevents the vehicle’s wheels from locking up on slippery surfaces. If the vehicle does not have anti-lock brakes, the vehicle will continue moving in the direction it is going, and it will start to slide sideways or spin out of control.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC): This helps prevent vehicles from skidding out of control, particularly when roads are slick with ice. ESC helps the vehicle stay on its intended path when unexpectedly cut off by another motorist. It can also prevent an SUV from tipping over. All vehicles manufactured after 2012 must be equipped with ESC.
  • Head-protecting side airbags: These airbags deploy from above the windows and protect the occupant’s head. Curtain airbags cover the side windows in the front and rear seats. This prevents the occupants from hitting their heads, and from being ejected in a side impact or a rollover accident.
  • Forward-collision warning (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB): These warn drivers of an impending crash, either by visual, auditory, or physical cues. If the driver fails to react to the warnings, the automatic braking system will apply full or partial force to the brakes.
  • Blind-spot warning (BSW): Using radar or cameras to scan the vicinity, this system alerts drivers when a vehicle enters their blind zone. It will also send an alert to the driver if they start to drift into another lane when another motorist is in their blind spot.
  • Lane-departure warning (LDW) and lane-keeping assist (LKA): LDW warns the driver if he or she is crossing into another lane. LKA will correct the steering or apply the brakes if the car crosses the lane markings.
  • Adaptive cruise control: This technology ensures that the vehicle maintains a safe following distance from the car ahead.
  • Rearview cameras: Effective 2018, rearview cameras became mandatory in all new vehicles. They help motorists avoid hitting other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and small children as they back up.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of All Types of Car Accidents

If you or someone you know were seriously injured in a car accident, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Vehicles that have poor safety ratings may be more likely to cause an accident and be less effective at protecting the occupants from injuries. We will review the details of the accident, walk you through the claims process, and ensure that you receive the financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.