You probably hear car manufacturers all the time rattle off safety ratings and standards in their commercials, but do you really know what goes into determining whether a car is safe or not? We’ve put together a quick overview to help explain how car safety ratings are actually determined. The best part? Many of the safety features you’ll hear us talk about are actually giving drivers discounts on their car insurance rates because they’re making the roads a safer place for drivers and passengers.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) determines safety ratings for cars on the road today based on a variety of criteria. Among the hard-hitting data used to create these ratings are statistical information about crashes along with information relating to safety features equipped in cars and how well they work. These are some of the details the IIHS uses to determine their safety ratings and top picks for drivers.
Top Safety Pick
According to the IIHS, cars that have earned the rating of “Top Safety Pick” have demonstrated outstanding safety by earning good ratings in the following test areas:
- Driver-side small overlap front
- Moderate overlap front
- Roof strength
- Head restraint
Additionally, vehicles earning the coveted Top Safety Pick rating must also earn advanced or superior ratings for front crash prevention and a rating of either acceptable or good for headlights.
How is Top Safety Pick Plus determined?
Cars receiving the rating of “Top Safety Pick Plus” must provide all the safety features of Top Safety Pick cars plus meet the additional requirements:
- Earn advanced or superior ratings for front crash prevention.
- Earn a good rating for headlights.
- Earn an acceptable or good rating for the passenger-side small overlap front test.
- The distinctions may seem small, but in the terms of safety, they can make a huge difference.
Keep in mind, that these picks are awarded by category and are the best picks among what’s available within each category. In other words, there may be safer vehicles in other categories that don’t meet the requirements to earn these endorsements from the IIHS.
‘Good’ vs. ‘Acceptable’ vs. ‘Marginal’ vs. ‘Poor’
While the ratings are very telling in how safe one car is when compared to another, they aren’t the only metrics that drivers should be considering.
For instance, Fox57 News reports that the driver of a vehicle with a “Good” rating is 46 percent less likely to die in an accident compared to the driver of a vehicle with a “Poor” IIHS rating. Drivers in vehicles with marginal safety ratings are 33 percent less likely to be harmed than those in vehicles with poor safety ratings. Overall, the ratings are pretty simple to understand. The highest rating the IIHS awards is a Good rating, meaning the car performed well in a specific test. Acceptable ratings mean that it performed at acceptable levels. Marginal indicates a vehicle under-performed somewhat in the tested area, and Poor indicates serious deficiencies in the tested area.
One thing you should note, though, is that frontal crash test ratings are not comparable across different vehicle weight classes. Heavier vehicles consistently offer better protection in real world crashes than lighter vehicles. If your primary goal in purchasing a vehicle is safety, you might explore larger vehicles rather than smaller ones.
How are tests performed?
The IIHS runs six tests to help make their safety determinations. These tests are based on crash-worthiness and help identify the top safety picks in each category. These tests include:
- Moderate Overlap Front
- Driver-Side Small Overlap Front
- Passenger-Side Small Overlap Front
- Roof Strength
- Head Restraints and Seats
The IIHS also runs vehicle headlight systems testing and child safety seat attachment system testing known as LATCH. Each test is conducted with specific parameters to determine whether they meet certain ratings criteria in the following three areas:
- Structural performance
- Injury measures
- Dummy movement
The IIHS does not run new tests on every vehicle each year. Car models that undergo minimal changes, for instance, are not required retesting. Only when major redesigns or vehicle overhauls occur does the IIHS conduct new tests. When minor safety improvements are made, the IIHS also works with vehicle manufacturers, requiring specific information and video documentation of the manufacturers testing processes to render their updated ratings.
In general, the IIHS and NHTSA offer the best options for people interested in driving safer vehicles but want to get independent information and verification about the safety features of cars on the road today.
Insurance for safe cars
Even though safety features have a profound impact on saving lives on the road, they don’t quite yet have an impact on many insurance companies. At Elephant, we believe it should. That’s why we offer our SafeCar discount for a variety of car safety features, including:
- Automatic braking (forward-collision warnings)
- Lane detection systems
The above are all features included in many of the cars earning the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus ratings. In fact, many car manufacturers like Subaru and Toyota are making these features standard in many of their new models.