When you’re shopping for a new car, safety should be a top priority, especially if you’re buying with the family in mind. With its five-star safety rating system, the Euro NCAP test helps consumers identify and compare car safety ratings, so they can go for the option that best suits their needs.

The most reliable way of assessing new car safety, NCAP ratings provide both peace of mind and an indication of just how far safety technology has progressed over the decades. But how exactly does it calculate these ratings and what do the ratings indicate?

To help, we’ll take a look at NCAP in more detail below.

What is Euro NCAP?

Prior to 1997, buyers looking for a new car could only go off a manufacturer’s reputation and the list of safety equipment before making a purchase.

However, all that changed when the Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) was created that same year. Designed to test how safe a car is in a collision, the Euro NCAP put aside the pomp and circumstance of car ads and marketing – which was previously a sufficient measure of safety(!) – in favour of rigorous testing, hard facts and a straightforward five-star rating system.

Manufacturers may have been livid at the time, claiming such tests were unfair and overly harsh, but those all-important star ratings now play a huge part in car sales. Without a four or five-star rating, it would certainly be hard to justify purchasing a car that scored anything less.

Keep in mind that due to its independent status, it isn’t a legal requirement for cars to have a Euro NCAP test. Even cars that score zero are on sale and perfectly legal to buy, but again: would you opt for a car knowing it had a zero-star safety rating?

What does the Euro NCAP test involve?

There are several tests involved in the Euro NCAP, each of them designed to reflect real-world accidents. These tests have been expanded with the advent of more sophisticated safety technology coming to market, such as automatic braking and speed assistance.

With the help of sensor-equipped crash-test dummies, the Euro NCAP measures what might happen to a real person should the same thing happen out on the road. Alongside adult occupants, they also use child-sized dummies to simulate infants for more thorough testing. 

Let’s take a look at how cars are tested below.

Frontal impact: A test of a car’s safety performance when involved in a front impact with another vehicle, the test involves a car travelling at 31mph colliding with a moving barrier travelling at the same speed.

Car-to-car-side impact: To determine how a car protects its occupants when struck by another vehicle from the side, a large robot crashes into the car’s side doors. Any ‘injuries’ sustained by the dummies are recording, including injuries caused by occupants colliding with each other.

Pole side impact: Like the above, except the car is in motion and the object is stationary. This reflects what happens if a driver was to lose control of their car and skid into a tree or lamp post, for example.

Pedestrian protection: Since a car’s design can end up protecting pedestrians, this test mirrors collisions with both adult and child pedestrians to see how the car’s design plays a part in protecting them.

Child protection systems: Euro NCAP also assesses how well and how safely a car accommodates child safety seats, using crash test dummies that are roughly the same size as an 18-month-old and a three-year-old.T

Whiplash: Tests are performed to replicate the conditions of whiplash to see how a car design mitigates the risk of neck-related injuries.

Speed assistance systems and seatbelt reminders: Conditions are created to test the effectiveness of speed assistance (which remind you of the speed limit on certain roads) and seatbelt reminders (which beep until you put your seatbelt on)

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB): By creating three types of road equivalent to urban, rural and motorway conditions, the Euro NCAP can also test how effective such technology - which slows down the car if it detects an imminent collision – is in preventing crashes.

AEB vulnerable road users: A test to determine how well a vehicle can detect cyclists. This is especially important when it comes to testing whether AEB is being incorrectly activated.

Electronic stability control: Since most modern cars have anti-skid technology, this test determines how the car manages in the event of a loss of control or grip in wet or slippery conditions.

How are Euro NCAP ratings calculated?

These tests are carried out to determine a score in each of the following categories:

  • Adult occupant protection
  • Child occupant protection
  • Pedestrian protection
  • Safety assistance technology

The scores in each category use a percentile system up to 100% which then informs the overall star rating. The methods that Euro NCAP uses to determine its scores has not been made public, however, we know that the star ratings denote the following:

  • 5 stars: Overall excellent performance in crash protection, well equipped with comprehensive and robust crash avoidance technology
  • 4 stars: Overall good performance in crash protection and in general, additional crash avoidance technology may be present
  • 3 stars: Average occupant protection but not necessarily equipped with the latest crash avoidance features
  • 2 stars: Nominal crash protection but lacking crash avoidance technology
  • 1 star: Marginal crash protection with little in the way of crash avoidance technology
  • 0 stars: Meets current crash safety legislation but lacks essential modern safety technology. Can still legally be sold.

How do I find the Euro NCAP rating for my car?

You can find the Euro NCAP rating for your current car, or any car you’re thinking of purchasing, by heading to the Euro NCAP website. There, you’ll be able to peruse its extensive database, and search by model.

Sometimes, manufacturers will often use Euro NCAP ratings in the advertising and marketing of their car – especially if they want to show it received five stars.

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