How Is a Car’s Safety Rating Determined?


When looking to purchase a car, a person has to consider several important factors, such as what they can afford. However, it is also important to consider the safety rating of the vehicle.

In many cases, the more expensive cars are safer. However, nowadays, new safety features are being invented and introduced to cars often, and safety testing is performed on new cars. Finding a car at your price point with a good safety rating should be your goal.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs crash tests on the new auto models every year and determines the safety ratings of those vehicles. The IIHS uses a series of tests involving dummies, and they crash these vehicles from different angles.

Frontal Crash Tests

Head-on collisions are responsible for the most car accident fatalities. The IIHS conducts low- and moderate-speed tests to see how a crash impacts a vehicle and the space for occupants. The IIHS has three different types of frontal crash tests that they perform:

  • Moderate impact tests: The vehicle travels at 40 miles per hour toward a barrier, striking at 40 percent of the vehicle width on the driver’s side front.
  • Two small impact tests on the driver and passenger side: This test is designed to replicate what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object, like a tree or utility pole. It challenges safety belt and airbag designs because the crash causes occupants to move both forward and to the side of the vehicle. The test is repeated on the passenger side.

The reason for the two tests is that the outer edges of a vehicle are not well protected and the force of the crash usually goes into the front wheel, suspension system, and firewall. Often, this means the wheel will be forcefully pushed backward into the footwell, which can result in serious foot and leg injuries.

Side-Impact Tests

Side-impact collisions account for about 25 percent of all motor vehicle accident fatalities in the United States, according to the IIHS. The sides of cars do not have much room between the window and door and the person seated inside. Occupants sitting near the doors do not have much to shield them from the force of an impact.

Some important factors engineers are looking for in these crash tests include:

  • Driver and passenger injury measures: Damage done to the dummies correlates injuries for people involved in a crash. Measures from sensors on the dummies, especially the ones from the head and upper body, are major components of each vehicle’s overall side safety rating.
  • Head protection: To determine how well the dummies heads are protected in the crash, the dummies heads are covered in grease paint before the test. If a vehicle has airbags that perform correctly, it will wind up with grease paint on the airbags.
  • Safety cage: Determining how well the safety cage performs during a collision is another test for the side of the car. It is expected that some intrusion into the seating area of the car will happen, but engineers are looking for a vehicle structure that is strong enough to keep that impact from seriously compromising the driver and passenger space.

Roof Strength

Every year, many people are killed in rollover car accidents. Fortunately, electronic stability control significantly reduces rollover collisions. Features such as side curtain airbags and strong seat belts help protect the people inside the vehicle. However, a strong roof also contributes to seat belt and airbag safety because a sturdy roof will not collapse. It also means that people inside the vehicle are less likely to wind up being ejected through the windshield or windows because of a severely damaged roof.

Head Restraints and Seat Tests

Neck injuries, such as whiplash, are common in car accidents, and a good head restraint can prevent these injuries from happening. Neck injuries can result from any type of collision, however, most often, they result from rear-end car accidents.

To perform these tests, a vehicle seat and dummy are placed on a sled that is then moved to simulate the impact of a crash.


About half of vehicle crashes in the United States happen at night, which is why headlight safety is a critical component in crash prevention. Not all headlights perform equally when needed. The IIHS tests include checking headlights from straight ahead, curving to the right or left, or sharply curving to the right or left.

Front Crash Prevention Systems

Front crash prevention systems help drivers avoid car accidents with vehicles ahead of them. Since 2019, manufacturers have introduced a front crash prevention system that also recognizes pedestrians. The system and score are designed to help consumers choose a safe car.

Lower Anchors and Tethers

The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system is designed to protect small children who are in car safety seats from being ejected out of the vehicle or from the seat coming loose. These tests are for the bottom component, which anchors the car safety seat, and the top, which is designed to keep the seat from pitching forward in a crash.

With these tests in mind, the IIHS hopes to offer consumers enough information about how their car could perform in a crash. Before buying a car, you should review its safety rating.

Wilmington Car Accident Lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow Can Protect Your Rights After an Accident

Before you purchase a car, you should review its safety rating. However, even if you have the safest car, you can still get into an accident. Our Wilmington car accident lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow have decades of experience advocating for people involved in all types of auto collisions, and we can help if you have been severely injured in an accident. Call us at (302) 427-9500 or fill out our online form for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Bear, and Milford, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Middletown, Dover, Milford, Lewes, Rehoboth, Elsmere, and Seaford.


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