• Feb 28, 2007

When purchasing a new vehicle people look at a lot of different factors. If safety is your main concern, you have to rely on data from NHTSA and IIHS. On their websites you can find out how any vehicle fared in front, rear and side impact crash test. You're looking for a five-star rating from the NHTSA and a "Good" rating from the IIHS. The alternative would be to crash the cars ourselves to see how well they fare, and while some of us are crazy enough to do it, the rest would rather these two agencies handle the ditry work. We take their results at face value, but are they really accurate? Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business professors David Harless and George Hoffer decided to take the data to another level.

The professors came up with a clever way to test whether or not crash tests work: compare fatality rates for vehicles that went from a lower crash test score to a higher score after a redesign. When looking at the passenger car segment, the tests proved very accurate. When comparing a five star NHTSA rating to a one star rating the driver death rate rose 18 decrease in fatalities. When comparing data from IIHS, cars rated "Poor" saw 43% higher death rates than vehicles rated "Good". Trucks and SUVs, however, didn't see the same effect. Tests came up statistically flat between low-rated vehicles and high-rated vehicles.

Thanks for the tip, Kirk!

[Source: Yahoo]



In the end, crash tests do matter if you're looking to buy a car. For SUVs and trucks, perhaps the driver may be the biggest difference between safety and harm. An amazing 95% of all new vehicles receive five star ratings from the NHTSA, which has pretty much rendered those tests useless anyway. The Department of Transportation is looking at ways to make its tests tougher and give automakers that produce truly safe vehicles something to brag about again.


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  • 13 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      Crash test ratings only matter if you crash.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I can't believe people pick bigger cars just to be safer. Now when you crash you can kill other people in smaller cars instead of just injuring them. Don't worry about those road barriers too, You'll just fly right through them completely safely with only the splattered bodies of construction workers to clean up. Great!
      • 7 Years Ago
      I really dont understand what these ratings say. To my understanding, cars are tested at about 40mph. But how often do people crash with that speed? Even in best case scenario, two cars going at minimal speed of 30mph on local roads will result in impact 60mph head on crash. That still doesnt happen. Accidents are either on arterial or highways. Most of the time people are at any higher speed than given max speed of street. And way higher speed than what they test at.
      • 7 Years Ago
      #7

      i can't recommend that mentality even to idiots i know are going to crash because i don't want them driving their tank, excuse me, SUV into my sedan.

      how a car should be looked at in terms of safety.
      1. capability of accident avoidance. everything from handling, braking and accelerating should be considered here. an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
      2. modern safety features. sure, being in a behemoth might lessen the damage on your vehicle, but last time i checked the occupants are still fairly soft and squishy and don't react well to hitting hard interior surfaces even lightly. the more airbags, the better.
      3. crumble zones, safety cages, impact beams, etc. in this case, bigger isn't necessarily better. more modern use of aluminum means a lighter car can be stronger, so just buying the biggest beast you can afford won't save you. not to mention the bigger it is the more you lose the #1 thing to consider when buy a car (reread the above if you missed it).

      now, do the ratings matter? if you really wanted to know the truth about them, i'd ask the insurance companies.
      • 7 Years Ago
      You mean there are cars on the road that aren't SUVS and fullsize pickups? I should make a better effort to look out for them. I only have so much attention while driving and the order of precidene is:

      1. Cell phone: Everyone must talk to me at all times
      2. Big mac: Hey this is just the appetizer until I get home for my real dinner
      3. Look for the next gas station

      • 7 Years Ago
      Mike hit the nail right on the head. This sort of stuff only matters if you're involved in a crash. And I don't know of anyone that's bought a car primarily to have a crash in it.

      I'd much sooner sacrifice some crash mitigation prowess for better crash avoidance prowess.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Becuase auto insurance rates are also based on the safety ratings of vehicles, many chose not to purchase a very good vehicle becuase it costs more to insure. Of course, you can always drive without insurance like some folks and not worry - which makes the legal folks have to pay more for their own ride! What probably started out as a perk to buyers to search out safely built vehicles feels more like a penalty now if you want to consider a vehicle that is not deemed (by the "professionals") not as safe.
      • 7 Years Ago
      They matter just as much as EPA fuel ratings do....
      • 7 Years Ago
      I agree with Jimmy.VW ,MB,BMW,and Volvo have far superior chasis to any other cars.They conduct real crash senarios with offset collisions in europe.Any one can crash a car head on or at 90 deg. at 35 mph.and fair a pass.Princess Diana would or survived hitting a concrete pole at 75 MPH. had she wore a seat belt,the limo driver lived in that S series.I'd like to see a lexus do that.....
      • 7 Years Ago
      Keep in mind that the NHTSA test results are valid ONLY for comparing vehicles in the same size category. If you buy a Honda Civic, for example, because it gets good results in the NHTSA tests, those results "hold" only if you crash into something roughly the same size as a Honda Civic. Our traffic environment contains a mix of vehicle sizes, and size matters very much in crashes. Moreover, you can pick ahead of time what size vehicle (or fixed object) that you may crash into.

      The laws of physics have not been altered by government crash tests. Vehicle size should remain a purchase consideration for those who rank safety high on their list of priorities.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Well the part about trucks is a big duh. Heavier vehicles are gonna win, so a 6000lb 2 Star will do about as well as a 6000lb 5 star against a 3500lb passenger car, unless they roll, at which point both vehicles will perform just as poorly, because roof standards are the same for both vehicles.
      • 7 Years Ago
      People definetly are guided by those tests, especially when they are broadcast on Dateline NBC. The IIHS tests are far more realistic than the Gov. tests. Toyota does very well in crash tests and the proof is lower fatalities in Toyota cars and trucks. When customers were showed the crash test Videos in the showroom they overwhelmingly opted for the safer Toyota. The big chose to only achieve thye standards that the Gov. set while Toyota chose to far exceed them.
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