Vehicle safety is one of the most important qualities that people look for when car shopping. One simple way to find the safest car possible is to check out a car’s safety ratings.
There are two primary sources of a car’s safety ratings in the U.S. today: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the federal agency responsible for setting and enforcing governmental safety standards for automobiles. As part of its role, it conducts crash tests on all popular vehicle models.
The tests conducted by the NHTSA include:
- Frontal crash tests, which simulate full head-on collisions
- Side crash tests, which simulate a collision at an intersection (also known as a T-bone crash)
- Side pole crash tests, which simulate crashing into a tree or utility pole
The car’s safety ratings are then reported using a star rating system; the safest vehicles receive five stars, while the least safe vehicles get only one star.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a nonprofit organization funded by insurance companies. It also performs crash tests, but the IIHS tests look at different types of accidents than the NHTSA. For example:
- Frontal crash tests are performed with the two vehicles offset, so that the impact is focused only on the driver’s half of the vehicle.
- A rollover test measures the strength of a vehicle’s roof.
- Rear crash tests are included to measure whiplash.
Instead of a five-star system, the IIHS rates cars as either “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal” or “poor.” Cars that score well on all of the tests are labeled as “Top Safety Picks” or given the new “Top Safety Pick+” designation.
Of course, the best way to stay safe when driving is to avoid accidents altogether, so each organization also lists cars that have popular collision-avoidance technologies.
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