Understanding and Interpreting Crash Test Results

Crash Test Dummy in Car

Vehicle safety has always been an important aspect of the buying and leasing process. For the most part, today’s vehicles are much safer than the vehicles of the past. However, when choosing a safe vehicle, you will want to consider how well it fares in an accident compared to other vehicles in its class. To research this, you may choose to look into crash test data to help aid your decision-making process. Cars.com has come up with seven key insights about crash test results, and how they should be interpreted:

  1. Crash test results cannot always be compared to each other.
  2. Different agencies use different crash tests to gather data.
  3. When observing the NHTSA’s star-rating-system, know that it has been reworked recently.
  4. Interpreting side-impact tests.
  5. Government rollover ratings may not be as accurate as you think.
  6. Roof-strength tests will provide you with important rollover crash data.
  7. Not every model of car is rated.

Below, we will delve into these seven insights in more detail to give you a better idea of what they mean. We hope that you take these into account when shopping for your next vehicle.

1) Be Careful When Comparing Crash Test Results

Model-to-model frontal crash test results can only be compared to vehicles that are in the same class or close to the same weight (not more than 250 pounds lighter or heavier). The reasoning behind this is that a frontal crash test specifically analyzes how a vehicle would fare in an accident with a vehicle of the same weight, rather than one that is smaller or larger.

In theory, a heavier vehicle would better protect its passengers in an accident than a lighter vehicle if all factors are the same. However, this is almost never how it works out. Due to this, keep in mind that a large vehicle with a poor crash rating is not necessarily safer than a smaller vehicle with a good rating.

2) Data is Gathered Differently By Each Agency

The two agencies that provide the majority of the crash test data that we see today are The National Highway Traffic Administration and the IIHS. The NHTSA uses a test that observes a vehicle crashing head-on into an immovable barrier. The downfall of this test is that it is not necessarily tailored to simulate most “real-world” car accidents. The test that the IIHS conducts involves a frontal crash with a barrier that simulates that of another vehicle. This provides test results that can be interpreted as “real” as they better simulate a real-world car accident.

3) Know That The NHTSA’s Star System Has Changed

The NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program was revamped in the 2011 model year. In this year, new testing was introduced which included a side-pole test and a new range of crash test dummies. The new side-pole test could now record additional data to supplement the already existing frontal and side impact crash tests. This is where the catch comes in… No cars that were made before the new test was introduced have been tested by the NHTSA. Due to this, crash ratings released before the 2011 model year are essentially inaccurate according to the new system.

4) Interpreting Side-Impact Results

The NHTSA has started incorporating head injury data into their side-impact rating system. This test also includes a side barrier crash involving a pole to simulate a vehicle impacting a tree or a light post. This test reveals any weaknesses that don’t show up in a barrier test.

Side-impact sleds used by the NHTSA are around the same size as a mid-sized sedan. On the other hand, the sleds the IIHS use in their tests are larger (around the size of a full SUV or truck). In turn, this test simulates a much more dangerous accident. Both tests can be relied on as consistent because the sled does not change across vehicle classes.

5) Government Rollover Ratings May Not Be Completely Accurate

Automakers and safety experts started to question the NHTSA’s original rollover resistance ratings in the 2001 model year. It was believed that these ratings were inaccurate because they were based only on mathematical calculations rather than actual driving tests. The issue was addressed in the 2004 model year as the NHTSA combined its mathematical formulas with a test called the “fishhook dynamic driving test.” This test observes what happens when a car suddenly swerves and then overcorrects. This test is meant to reveal the chances that the car in question has of rolling over. Some questions remain regarding its validity.

6) Roof-Strength Tests Reveal Important Information

The IIHS employs a roof-strength test that reveals how the roof of a vehicle will protect passengers in the event of a rollover accident. In the 2010 model year, the IIHS began to rate car models based on how well their roofs could stand up to weight four times their size in a crush test. This test provides consumers with invaluable information and insight into how well the selected model will fare in a rollover accident.

7) Your Vehicle May Not Be Rated

If during research, you find that your model of vehicle does not have any test results, it may be because they are pending or the vehicle may not be tested. This situation is a result of the NHTSA revamping their testing methods in 2011. In turn, tests run before 2011 were made essentially void.

The IIHS and NHTSA both test the cars with the highest volume on the market. Consequently, cars like convertibles may not be tested at all. Look for test results to be released numerous months after a car hits the market.

Have Questions After You’ve Been In a Car Accident? Call Mickey Fine

Mickey Fine has been litigating car accident cases in California for over 25 years. He knows how to deal with insurance companies, and has the experience necessary to get you the compensation you deserve after an accident. You may have a lot of unanswered questions after your car accident. Don’t worry; Mickey Fine is here to assist you throughout the claims process. He will treat you like a person, not just a case number. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Car Accident
by Mickey Fine Law
Last updated on - Originally published on