Crash Tests – What Do They Tell You?

When you’re researching for your next car, it’s recommended that you check out the safety rating above all else. After all, you want your vehicle to keep you as safe and sound as possible, don’t you? Our motoring journalist, Tim Barnes-Clay, reports.


In the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) is used. It’s estimated that Euro NCAP has saved over 78,000 lives since its tests were ushered in twenty years ago. Approximately 1,800 cars have been assessed and more than 630 safety ratings have been published. Nine out of 10 vehicles sold within Europe now have an NCAP rating, meaning that the body’s evaluations are the most highly regarded in this part of the world.

What Does a Crash Test Involve?

But, what goes on in the Euro NCAP crash tests? And, what do their scores disclose? In this piece, we examine what a crash test involves and how the scores work. The present safety system of the NCAP incorporates a twin rating. This means that cars will get a total score based on the regular amount of safety technology tailored to every trim level. There is also a second non-compulsory rating, hinging on whether cars have additional safety kit. So, for instance, if a vehicle comes fitted with a safety pack.


Remarkably, crash testing cars didn’t happen in Britain until the 1990s. In the United States, however, the earliest crash test organisation started up in 1979. This was called the New Car Assessment Program. The European New Car Assessment Programme was created in 1996 and the first crash tests were issued in 1997. So, what goes on at these Euro NCAP assessments? There are four classifications, and each classification is given a percentage score.

Adult Occupant Protection

The Adult Occupant Protection score is centered on crash situations that mimic the following;

  • Frontal impact (off-set and head-on)
  • Crashing side-on into a travelling object
  • Striking an immovable object (such as a telegraph pole or lamp post)
  • Whiplash protection and the efficiency of Autonomous Braking Systems are also considered.

Child Occupant Protection

This area is based on a trio of elements:

  • The protection offered by child restraint systems (in side and front impacts)
  • The capability to house restraints of all shapes and sizes
  • Facilities within the car that confirm safe use of child seats, comprising: ISOFIX child seat anchor points and airbag deactivation technology.

Pedestrian Protection

This is done by gauging the risk of damage to the head, pelvis and legs from several points at the front of the vehicle. This involves the windscreen and bonnet, bumper and bonnet edge. The car will get more points if the Autonomous Emergency Braking systems lower the injury.

Safety Assist

Euro NCAP observes all safety technology that comes as ‘basic’ in the vehicle. This take account of things like;

  • Seatbelt reminder alarms
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Speed limiters
  • Lane Departure warnings
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking.

What Do Euro NCAP Scores Mean?

Once a vehicle has been examined in each category, it will be evaluated accordingly. These scores will then be put into a complete rating, which is what the stars represent. While it’s simple to say five stars are excellent and one star is terrible, what does it all really mean?

Five Stars

Five stars mean that there is good crash protection performance overall. It also indicates that the vehicle is well kitted out with safety tech.

Four Stars

Four stars means the car has good crash protection overall and that there may be crash protection kit located in the vehicle.

Three Stars

Three stars means a car has run-of-the-mill to decent crash protection. Nonetheless, it is deficient in collision avoidance tech.

Two Stars

Two stars means the vehicle has minimal crash protection and is also left wanting in terms of safety tech.

One Star

One star doesn’t necessarily mean a car is hazardous. Indeed, Euro NCAP refuses to give stars to cars that don’t meet present-day legal safety criteria. So, a vehicle with a one star Euro NCAP score is still relatively safe, but it has low crash protection and doesn’t have safety tech fitted.

How to Compare Vehicle Safety

If you’re checking out a few sets-of-wheels, you’ll doubtless want to compare their safety scores. There are websites that tell you the Euro NCAP safety score, but we advise that you visit the Euro NCAP website instead. It not only gives you a make and model’s safety rating, but it displays the results for each of the four categories. It will also explain how it established that rating.

And Finally…

You should be aware though that in 2009, Euro NCAP tightened up its rules. This was so the body could include safety tech, like Electronic Stability Control. So, this means that a motor tested in 2008 or 2009 could have got a five-star score, but would now only have four stars because it doesn’t have the safety tech. This doesn’t mean the car is less-safe, it just means that where the regulations have changed, the scores have changed. Therefore, when you are evaluating which car you should buy next, ensure you are getting a like-for-like comparison when it comes to the crash testing.