Car Safety Ratings: What Do They Mean?

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Every car commercial tells you that their car has a five-star safety rating. Does this score really mean anything? What tests are being performed and who does the measuring?

The Organizations

In the United States, there are two organizations that score cars on safety ratings, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The NHTSA is run by the Department of Transportation and is sometimes called the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) or the government five star rating.

Frontal Collision Ratings

The NHTSA gets its data by running a car directly into a wall at 35 mph. The IIHS does a different test, where the impact is offset, and not directly in the middle. The IIHS test does a better job of mimicking real-life accidents. While most cars do well in directly head-on collisions, most real-life collisions are offset.

The NHTSA scores with five stars. Five stars means that there is ten percent or less chance of injury. Injury is defined as something life-threatening or for which you will need immediate hospitalization. Four stars is between eleven and twenty percent chance of...

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