How Are Vehicle Safety Ratings Determined?

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For most people, there are few financial transactions more significant than purchasing a new car, except for buying a new house. Whether you are looking for a sports car with all the bells and whistles or a minivan that will meet the needs of your growing family, you want to make sure that the vehicle is safe. Although today’s vehicles are equipped with a range of advanced safety technology, making them safer than ever, all new vehicles do not have the same safety ratings. Each year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announce safety ratings for hundreds of new and used vehicles, based on a range of tests. This can help you narrow down your search and ensure that you find the safest vehicle that you can afford. If you are injured in a car accident involving a vehicle with a poor safety rating, do not hesitate to contact an experienced car accident lawyer. 

How Does the NHTSA Come Up with Their Safety Ratings?

The NHTSA bases its safety rating on a five-star rating system. The more stars assigned to the vehicle, the safer it is. The agency uses the following four tests to determine a vehicle’s safety rating:

  • Frontal crash test: This simulates a head-on collision by crashing a vehicle into a fixed barrier at a speed of 35 mph. This represents a crash between two vehicles that are similar in size. Other test details include the following:
    – An average-sized male adult in the driver’s seat.
    – A small-sized female adult in the front passenger seat.
    – Both dummies are secured with a seat belt.
    – Test involved an evaluation of a head, neck, chest, and femur injury.
    – Frontal crash ratings must be compared between vehicles that are in the same weight class.
  • Side barrier crash test: This simulates an intersection collision in which a vehicle is involved in a side-impact or T-bone accident. During this test, a 3,015-pound moving barrier hits the stopped vehicle on the driver’s side at a speed of 38.5 mph. Test details include the following:
    – An average-sized male adult in the driver’s seat.
    – A small-sized female adult in the front passenger seat.
    – Both dummies are secured with a seat belt.
    – Represents a typical intersection accident.
    – Test involved an evaluation of a head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis injury.
    – For this type of rating, all vehicles could be compared with each other. 
  • Side pole crash test: This test simulates an accident involving the test vehicle crashing into a telephone pole. The vehicle is angled at 75 degrees and hits the pole near the driver’s door going 20 mph. Additional test detail included:
    – A small-sized female adult in the driver’s seat, secured with a seat belt.
    – There was an evaluation of a head, chest, lower spine, abdomen, and pelvis injury.
    – All vehicles could be compared with each other.
  • Rollover resistance test: This calculation estimates the likelihood of the vehicle tipping over during a sudden swerve in the road. The rollover resistance rating is based on the static stability factor (SSF), which determines how top-heavy the vehicle is and how vulnerable it is to tipping over in a severe maneuver. 

The NHTSA does not conduct rear-impact crash ratings, owing to budgetary restrictions. The agency focuses its efforts on front and side-impact crashes, since they are responsible for the highest percentage of serious and fatal injuries.

What Factors Does the IIHS Use to Determine Safety Ratings?

Whereas the NHTSA uses a five-star rating, the IIHS uses good, acceptable, marginal, or poor ratings based on the crash test results. The agency conducts similar side barrier crash tests as the NHTSA. However, they conduct a range of tests that are different, including the following:

  • Frontal overlap crash tests: Unlike the NHTSA test, which crashes the vehicle head-on into a fixed barrier, the IIHS simulates a number of front crashes in which only part of the vehicle crashes into the barrier. There is a moderate overlap test, which involves a vehicle traveling at 40 mph into a barrier that is 40 percent of the vehicle’s width and is offset by the driver’s side. The small overlap test involves a barrier that is 25 percent of the vehicle’s width.
  • Roof strength test: This evaluates the strength of the roof in the event of a rollover. An angled metal plate is pushed into the roof at a slow, constant speed. The force needed to crush the roof, and potentially injure the passengers, is used to calculate the vehicle’s strength-to-weight ratio.
  • Head restraint and seat tests: Neck sprains and strains are commonly reported injuries, according to car insurance claims in the United States. These tests help organizations determine how effective a vehicle is at protecting the occupants from a range of neck injuries, including whiplash. The vehicle’s seats are removed and placed onto a moving sled that is moved to simulate the rapid acceleration and deceleration that occur in an accident.

What Capabilities Are Examined During Crash Tests?

Researchers test cars to identify their specific strengths and weaknesses in the event of a collision. A vehicle’s overall safety is based on a range of factors, including the following:

  • The vehicle’s ability to avoid a collision using various built-in safety features.
  • The number and location of airbags in the vehicle. Some of the highest rated vehicles are those that have multiple areas containing airbags.
  • The strength of the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system.
  • The type and effectiveness of the vehicle’s rear-impact protection.
  • How prone the vehicle is to a rollover when hit.
  • The effectiveness of the electronic stability control system,
  • The strength of the structure of the vehicle.
  • The effectiveness of the seat belts.

How Are Crash Test Dummies Used When Testing Vehicles?

Crash test dummies are life-sized mannequins that are meant to represent the size and weight of an average human passenger. They help determine the injuries that an actual human body may suffer during a simulated car accident. Crash test dummies are an important part of the testing process for the following reasons:

  • They have up to 80 sensors that can measure the stress and strain that is placed on various body parts during an accident.
  • A dummy’s joints are designed in a way that simulates human joints, which means they are flexible and can stretch and bend.
  • Dummies are painted with grease paint, which allows researchers to see where their head impacted the vehicle on impact.
  • Dummies come in a range of different sizes to more accurately simulate the impact of a crash on men, women, and children.

How Can I Find the Safety Rating for My Vehicle?

All you have to do to check your vehicle’s safety rating is go to the NHTSA or IIHS website and type in the make and model of your vehicle. Both agencies publish the most recent crash test results online. These include safety ratings for new and used vehicles.

What Driver Assistance Technologies Improve Vehicle Safety?

There are a wide range of driver assistance technologies that are equipped in today’s newer vehicles that can help prevent car accidents and save lives, including the following:

  • Forward collision warning: Recommended by the NHTSA, this detects a collision and provides an audible warning to the driver.
  • Lane departure warning: This alerts drivers when they start to drift out of their lane. This is also recommended by the NHTSA.
  • Blind spot warning: This will provide a warning if another vehicle is in your blind spot.
  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB): The NHTSA recommends that all vehicles are equipped with AEB technology, which applies the brakes automatically if it detects a forward collision. There are two types of AEB, including dynamic brake support and crash imminent braking.
  • Blind spot intervention: The brakes are applied automatically if you start to change lanes, but there is another vehicle in your blind spot.
  • Rear automatic braking: If the system detects a collision while you are in reverse, it will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a crash.
  • Adaptive cruise control: This will adjust the vehicle’s speed so that it maintains a pre-set distance from the vehicle in front of you.
  • Lane centering assistance: This provides continual steering so that your vehicle stays centered in its lane.
  • Backup camera: Also known as rearview video system, this gives you a clear view directly behind the vehicle when the car is in reverse.
  • Automatic high beams: Your vehicle’s headlights will be automatically switched to low or high based on the lighting conditions and whether there is an oncoming vehicle approaching from the other direction. This is also known as semi-automatic beam switching.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Clients in Car Accidents

If you were injured in a car accident, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our dedicated legal team will assist you with every step of the claims process, address all your questions and concerns, and ensure that you receive the financial compensation for which you are entitled for your injuries. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

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