What Are Car Safety Ratings?

Written by | Updated October 12, 2018

Car safety ratings are a national standard put into place by the United States Department of Transportation. They tell you how safe a car is to drive.

These ratings are based on a five-star scale, with five being the highest rating and one being the lowest. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses these car safety ratings to rate vehicles so that customers have a good idea of how a given car will survive an accident.

NHTSA Car Safety Rating Evaluation Procedure

The NHTSA five-star scale tells you how safe a car is based on a series of crash-tests. When putting together a rating, the NHTSA scientifically evaluates how a car performs in the most common types of crashes:

  • Frontal Crashes
  • Side Barrier Crashes
  • Side Pole Crashes
  • Rollover Crashes

To test each of these scenarios, crash test dummies—representing average adult males and females—are secured by seat belts. Once the crash test is complete, scientists evaluate potential injuries to the dummies, and they can then compare the results from one car to another.

Other Car Safety Ratings

The NHTSA has been the national standard for car safety ratings since 1978. The reason for this is two-fold. First, it is a federally funded organization that continues to receive support. Second, it is the only organization that currently provides data for rollover resistance as well as front and side crashes. This type of analysis gives a more comprehensive report to consumers.

While the NHTSA offers excellent data, it’s also important to note that other organizations can provide consumers with valuable car safety ratings as well. When buying a new vehicle, it’s smart to gather data from several sources.

Overall, car safety ratings will help you in your purchasing decisions.