Safety is often a top priority for new car buyers. This means Euro NCAP’s testing regime is a vital source of information for anyone looking to pick the car that’s going to protect them the best. Since 1997, the organisation has smashed thousands of new cars in exhaustive tests to find out how well each fares – pushing up safety standard across the industry.
Many governments impose basic safety requirements cars must pass to be sold, but Euro NCAP’s tests are among the most stringent. Since its inception, it’s set the standard against which the overwhelming majority of new cars are rated. Every few years, Euro NCAP increases the mark to pass, making it harder and harder for manufacturers to get the coveted five-star safety rating. So how does it assess cars and what do the scores mean?
How does Euro NCAP test cars?
Euro NCAP relies on funding from various governments both in the UK and across the European Union to conduct its research. In general, cars are sourced in one of two ways – either a manufacturer will donate a car – usually before release, so a rating can be awarded before it goes on sale – or by simply buying a car from the manufacturer.
Each car is then tested and assigned a rating from one to five stars, across four categories – Adult Occupant, Child Occupant, Pedestrian and Safety Assist:
- Adult Occupant – this score is judged against a car’s performance in six tests. Two assess protection from the front – one collision square-on into a solid barrier and another that clips 40 per cent of the front end into a deformable barrier, both at 40mph. A side impact test replicates a collision from a car, while the second simulates a collision with a tree or lamp post – the first at 30mph, the second 20mph. The fifth – a whiplash test – marks how well head and neck injuries are mitigated in a rear-end smash. Finally, an Autonomous Emergency Braking braking test marks how well the car can detect a front-end collision and autonomously perform an emergency stop.
- Child Occupant – badly fitted child seats can be a huge risk to children in the event of an accident. As a result, Euro NCAP marks how easy it is to secure a child seat in every car it tests. It also awards marks for how well it protects a child in the event of a crash and how many provisions – such as isofix fittings – are included either as standard or as an option.
- Pedestrian – this rating marks how forgiving the car’s front end will be in the event of a collision with a person. Hard points beneath the bodywork that could cause injury are marked down while extra points are awarded for features such as pop-up bonnets or external airbags. While AEB can often prevent a collision with another car, the best systems can also detect pedestrians and bring the car safely to a stop if someone walks out into the road. Cars with this function will achieve the best marks in this category.
- Safety Assist – Euro NCAP also awards points for clever tech that could prevent a crash in the first place. Electronic stability control and seatbelt reminders have long been a necessary part of the Safety Assist category. On top of these, speed limit functions, lane departure warning systems and AEB functions – at higher speeds than tested in the previous categories – are also marked. If a car is to get an overall five-star rating, it’ll need to include most, if not all of these features – as Ford discovered to its cost when the 2017 Mustang achieved just a two-star rating.
Our video, below, demonstrates the differences in safety between a car from the ’90s and a modern car:
Anything else worth bearing in mind?
Euro NCAP constantly strives to make new cars safer. As a result, its tests become more stringent almost every year. This means that a car that achieved a five-star rating back in 2012 might not score the same today, so it’s worth doing your research beforehand.
If you want to find out more about any particular model, Euro NCAP stores detailed reports on its website, while its YouTube channel, euroncapcom has archives of the video footage from tests. Check out our list of the safest cars on sale to know which models will keep you safe in an accident.