Safety first: Euro NCAP explained

The latest figures from the Department for Transport reveal the number of people killed and seriously injured on the UK roads is at the lowest level since records began back in 1926 – and one of the major reasons for this is that cars are now technically safer than they’ve ever been.
One of the major reasons why our cars are now safer is that, as technology and engineering capabilities increase, manufacturers must meet ever more stringent safety guidelines, such as those that make up the European New Car Assessment Programme, or Euro NCAP. So let’s take a closer look at Euro NCAP and see how it’s helping to make our roads safer…

What is Euro NCAP?

Euro NCAP provides an independent and comparative assessment of new car safety and its star rating system, which takes into account adult, child and pedestrian protection as well as safety assist technologies, means buyers can quickly and easily make an informed choice when it comes to a vehicle’s safety specifications. Launched in 1997, Euro NCAP initially awarded each car three individual star ratings based on adult, child and pedestrian protection, but this was replaced by in 2009 by a new overall safety rating whereby each category is rated on a percentage basis and an overall score out of five stars is given to each car – one star being the minimum standard, five being the maximum. The lowest Euro NCAP rating of one star provides the minimum statutory standard of safety all cars must reach before they can be sold in Europe – but manufacturers are encouraged to exceed these minimum requirements. So, about those star ratings…

How the Euro NCAP star ratings are awarded

The overall star rating is worked out by grading vehicles on each of these four categories:
  • Adult occupant protection – this test is based upon frontal, side and pole impact tests (whereby a car is impacted with a fixed narrow object), and a separate whiplash test is carried out on the driver and passenger seats.
  • Child occupant protection – introduced in 2003, this test uses 18-month and three-year-sized dummies in frontal and side impacts, and also takes into account how easily a child seat can be safely and securely fitted into a car.
  • Pedestrian protection – this test replicates accidents involving child and adult pedestrians at impact speeds of 25mph and cars are assessed on damage caused to lower legs, upper legs and head.
  • Safety assist – introduced in 2009, this test acknowledges the importance of driver assistance systems, such as lane departure warning systems and adaptive light control, and active safety technologies, such as electronic stability control and speed limiters, in avoiding accidents and minimising injury. Manufacturers are rewarded for fitting electronic stability controls, speed limitation devices and intelligent seat belt reminders.

How those Euro NCAP tests are carried out

The Euro NCAP tests take into account a number of crash scenarios:
  • Child protection – this uses frontal and side impact tests using 18-month-old and three-year-old sized dummies in manufacturer-recommended child restraints. The score depends upon the child seat performance as well as the fitting instructions, airbag warning labels and the how easily the seat can be fitted.
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESP) – Euro NCAP will only assess and rate models that have ESP fitted across the entire range.
  • Frontal impact – each car is crashed into an immovable block at a speed of 40mph and offset to replicate a half-width impact between the cars – research shows most frontal crashes involve only part of the car’s front. This test is designed to test a car’s ability to survive impact without suffering passenger compartment intrusion.
  • Pedestrian protection – tests are carried to replicate collisions with adults and children at speeds of 25mph and cars will score highly if the leg is impacted away from the knee, forces are spread over a longer length of the leg and the bonnet top flexes to protect the head. Points will also be scored for pedestrian-friendly bumpers that bend on impact.
  • Seat belt reminders – to ensure seat belts are worn, Euro NCAP assesses the volume and duration of the audible seat belt signal as well as the position and clarity of any visual warnings.
  • Side impact – there are two types of side impact test: car-to-car and pole. Car-to-car replicates a side on collision at 30mph, assessing the injury protection of side-impact bags and intrusion into the cabin. The pole test propels a car sideways at 18mph into a rigid pole, replicating a car colliding with a fixed object, something that accounts for around a quarter of all serious-to-fatal injuries. This is to encourage manufactures to fit head protection devices, like head or curtain side-impact airbags, and prevent the head from going through the window opening.
  • Speed limitation devices – two systems are rewarded, the first being one that prevents drivers exceeding the speed limit, cruise control for instance, and the other being one that warns the driver when the car’s speed is above the set maximum – although it’s unlikely anyone would actually get a car up to this speed. The functionality of these systems is assessed, with points given for ease of use and clarity of signals.
  • Whiplash – score is based upon the position of the front seat and the size and shape of the head restraint as well as its position in relation to the driver or passenger. The seat and head restraints are then tested and scored in crash conditions.

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