Car Safety Ratings

Car safety ratings are important to pay attention to since driving a safer car can save lives. Choosing a vehicle with better car safety ratings can also help lower your insurance rates. When buying a new or used car, it is important to make sure all of the safety equipment is installed and functions properly. Additional auto safety features can qualify you for car insurance discounts. Enter your ZIP code below to see how your car’s safety ratings impact your monthly rates.

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Tonya Sisler has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Journalism and has worked for 15+ years in management. She has also completed a proofreading certification and is currently a professional writer.

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Brad Larson has been in the insurance industry for more than a dozen years. He started out as a claims adjuster for a national carrier. He has since switched to the agency side of the business. Brad is licensed in all P&C lines.

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Reviewed by Brad Larsen
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Oct 29, 2020

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Choosing to drive safer cars can save lives, with out question. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 18 drivers out of every 100,000 will die in a traffic accident. Car safety measures, based on the results of crash testing and accident analysis, have reduced this number by almost 50% since 1980. However, all cars are different and consumers owe it to themselves to choose vehicles with the highest safety ratings and equipment possible.

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What Should I look For and Who Provides the Best Ratings?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) are the top two car safety testing agencies. The IIHS receives funding from insurance companies, while the NHTSA receives government funding. Each agency performs a similar battery of tests, with a few differences. Both agencies perform frontal impact; rear and side impact and rollover crash tests. The IIHS uses a rating scale from good to poor, while the NHTSA uses a scale of one to five stars, with five stars being best.

Rather than trying to compare safety test statistics from the two agencies, testing differences can be addressed by looking at combined ratings. Experts still debate which agency has better or more useful statistics, and since the IIHS works for insurance companies, its interests and influences are different from the NHTSA. Many websites online show statistics from both agencies, but only the most popular vehicles go through testing each year. Informed for Life, a nonprofit group, provides car safety data based on the combined results of both agencies’ tests. Additionally, the IIHS publishes a yearly list of their top safety picks, which includes cars in several different categories.

Agencies Working Together

The IIHS and the NHTSA also combine their strengths to provide more insightful car safety data for consumers. For example, the NHTSA has been collecting crash mortality data for many years. The IIHS started testing cars for side impact crashes in 2003, and in 2011 has compared their “good” rated vehicles, the highest rating, for side impact crashes against the NHTSA’s mortality data for side impact crashes.

The results of the combined data sets prove that cars with a “good” rating for side impact crashes showed drivers and occupants were 70% less likely to be killed in crashes involving a side impact. Another statistic that resulted from the combination of data from these two agencies was the finding that 27% of all accidents that included fatalities were due to a side-impact collision. For 2011, the Chevy Colorado, the Hyundai Accent and the Jeep Wrangler two- door vehicles all received a side impact rating of “poor” from the IIHS.

The NHTSA continues to tighten safety standards and plans on requiring more side impact protection as well as protection against occupant ejection in rollover accidents, by 2018. Most likely, auto manufacturers will include stronger side window glass, and standard side impact airbags among other features, to help meet these new safety standards.

Car Safety Features to Look For

When buying a new or used car, it is important to make sure all of the safety equipment is included and functions properly. According to the NHTSA, following are nine features that enhance a car’s safety, which consumers should not go with out. Car buyers should be aware that not all of the following features are standard equipment.

1. Check the Seatbelts

Seat belts serve to keep passengers inside the car in the event of an accident and lower the risk of a person colliding with the dashboard, steering wheel or front windshield. Newer seat belts include more features which enhance performance. Some upper seat belts are adjustable, letting drivers alter the shoulder strap position to accommodate their size. Also included in some cars is a seat belt pretensioner. This is the mechanism that retracts a seat belt to take out excess slack in a car crash. A seat belt still needs to fit snugly however since the pretension is not strong enough to secure a passenger back into his seat in an accident.

2. Look for Airbags

Depending on the solid nature of the object struck and how fast a car is going at the time of impact, airbags in the front will inflate immediately to prevent the occupant from colliding with the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield. Airbags in the side of cars greatly lower the risk of occupants hitting the door and other objects that might crash through the door.

3. Assess Head Injury Protection

Many car car safety features have been designed to prevent head injuries including parts made from foam and other materials built into the interior of the car. Although this is not visible to car occupants, look for head airbags, especially those designed to protect occupants in a rollover accident.

4. Vehicle Head Restraints

Vehicle Head Restraints keep the head from moving too much during a rear impact type of crash, reducing the potential for neck injuries. Head restraints are only required for front seats.

5. Anti-lock Brakes

ABS Brakes (also known as an anti-lock brake system) assists in preventing a car’s wheels from locking up during quick, or panic, braking. This gives the driver greater control over steering, which is an important factor for avoiding collisions. Some anti-lock brake systems also have brake assistance (brake assist for short), which automatically senses emergency situations based on the force or speed a driver uses when pressing on the brakes, and boosts braking power to accommodate the situation.

6. Traction Control

A traction control system improves stability of a car by controlling and limiting the amount of car tire slippage when the driver applies excess power. A traction control feature will automatically adjust engine power and even apply extra braking force if needed.

7. All-Wheel Drive

All wheel drive distributes power to all wheels which maximizes traction. Vehicles with all-wheel drive (AWD) and traction control benefit from tires not slipping under applications of excess acceleration power.

8. Electronic Stability Control

This feature may have different names depending upon the car manufacturer but ESC essentially helps drivers maintain control over their vehicle during any extreme steering maneuver, such as those that might happen in an accident situation. ESC (electronic stability control) works by sensing when a car starts to spin, and automatically brakes a specific wheel to keep the car under control.

9. Car Weight

Based on crash data, cars with a heavy weight provide more protection to drivers than lighter cars, even with comparable vehicle safety features. This is especially true in crashes involving two vehicles.

Vehicle safety ratings play a big role in car insurance rates so before buying a new car consider the safety features factory installed as many car insurance companies provide discounts based on these features. Learn more about car insurance rates for a particular model by comparing car insurance quotes today by ZIP code!

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