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Frequently Asked Question- NCAP

What is NCAP?

How long has NCAP been around and what is the program’s goal?

How does NHTSA choose vehicles to test?

How many testing facilities are there? And where are they?

How does NHTSA categorize vehicles?

Can I compare vehicles from different classes?

How does NHTSA perform frontal-crash test and rate vehicles?

What is the difference between a full frontal test and an offset crash test?
Does NHTSA do both?


How does NHTSA side-crash test and rate vehicles?

Why doesn't NHTSA do rear impact crash tests?

Aren’t there other agencies or organizations that crash test vehicles?

If NHTSA didn't test my vehicle, how do I know if it's safe?

Does NHTSA have crash data on vehicles made before 1990?

How do I get more detailed crash data and rollover measurement data?

What is TWG and why is it important?

Rollover FAQs

Glossary of terms and abbreviations

How do the forces received by the test dummy during the crash test reflect what would happen to a real person?

 

What is NCAP?

NCAP stands for New Car Assessment Program. If you’ve heard of "government 5-star ratings," then you know NCAP. NCAP is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

NCAP provides consumers with vehicle safety information, primarily front and side crash test results, and more recently rollover ratings, to aid consumers in their vehicle purchase decisions. The test results are relayed to consumers via an easily recognizable star rating system – from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest.

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How long has NCAP been around and what is the program’s goal?

NCAP has actually been around for a while. NCAP was initiated in 1978 with the primary purpose of providing consumers with a measure of the relative safety potential of vehicles in frontal crashes. Side crash test results were added to the program beginning with model year 1997 vehicles and more recently rollover ratings were added beginning with model year 2001 vehicles.

The ultimate goal of NCAP is to improve occupant safety by providing market incentives for vehicle manufacturers to voluntarily design their vehicles to better protect occupants in a crash and be less susceptible to rollover, rather than by regulatory directives.

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How does NHTSA choose vehicles to test? Why isn’t my vehicle being tested?

Every year the agency chooses those new vehicles which are predicted to have high sales volume, those which have been redesigned with structural changes, or those with improved safety equipment. This allows us to provide star rating results that best represent what is actually being purchased in the marketplace. These vehicles are purchased from dealerships from across the country, just as you the consumer would. The vehicles are not supplied directly to NHTSA by the manufacturer – a common misperception.

Since NHTSA selects vehicles for testing based primarily upon sales volume, not all vehicles can be tested. Those with smaller sales volume may not have been selected. Even though a vehicle may not have been tested under the New Car Assessment Program, all vehicles sold in the U.S. are certified by the manufacturer as complying with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards.

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How many testing facilities are there? And where are they?

NHTSA tests vehicles at several contracted locations throughout the country. Having multiple testing locations allows NHTSA to rate more vehicles more quickly. We currently utilize five test facilities:

  • Karco Engineering, LLC: Adelanto, CA
  • MGA Research Corporation: Burlington, WI
  • Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW): Milwaukee, WI
  • General Dynamics – Advanced Information Systems: Buffalo, NY
  • Transportation Research Center (TRC) Inc.: East Liberty, OH

How does NHTSA categorize vehicles?

NHTSA categorizes vehicles by vehicle class and "curb" weight. Curb weight represents the weight of a vehicle with standard equipment including the maximum capacity of fuel, oil, coolant, and air conditioning, if so equipped. Passenger cars are further subdivided.

  • Passenger cars – mini (1,500-1,999 lbs. curb weight)
  • Passenger cars – light (2,000-2,499 lbs. curb weight)
  • Passenger cars – compact (2,500-2,999 lbs. curb weight)
  • Passenger cars – medium (3,000-3,499 lbs. curb weight)
  • Passenger cars – heavy (3,500 lbs. and over curb weight.)
  • Sport utility vehicles (SUVs)
  • Pickup trucks
  • Vans (minivans)

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Can I compare vehicles from different classes?

Side crash test results can be compared across all classes because all vehicles are hit with the same force by the same moving barrier.

Rollover ratings can also be compared across all classes.

Frontal crash test results can only be compared to other vehicles in the same class and whose weight is plus or minus 250 lbs of the vehicle being tested. This is so because a frontal crash test into a fixed barrier represents a crash between two vehicles of the same weight.

Examples:

  • It would not be permissible to compare the frontal crash results of a 4,500 lb SUV with those of a 3,000 sedan (different classes and exceeds the weight requirement).
  • It would not be permissible to compare the frontal crash results of a 3,600 lb pickup with those of a 3,400 lb van (meets the weight requirement, but different classes).
  • It would be correct to compare the frontal crash results of a 3,400 lb passenger car with a 3650 lb passenger car (same class and meets the weight requirement).

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How does NHTSA perform the frontal crash test and how are vehicles rated?

For frontal crash tests, crash-test dummies representing an average-sized adult are placed in driver and front passenger seats and secured with the vehicle's seat belts. Vehicles are crashed into a fixed barrier at 35 miles per hour (mph), which is equivalent to a head-on collision between two similar vehicles each moving at 35 mph. Since the test reflects a crash between two similar vehicles, make sure you compare vehicles from the same weight class, plus or minus 250 lbs., when looking at frontal crash star ratings.

Instruments measure the force of impact to each dummy's head, neck, chest, pelvis, legs and feet. Frontal star ratings indicate the chance of a serious head and chest injury to the driver and right front seat passenger. A serious injury is one requiring immediate hospitalization and may be life threatening.

5 stars
= 10% or less chance of serious injury
4 stars
= 11% to 20% chance of serious injury
3 stars
= 21% to 35% chance of serious injury
2 stars
= 36% to 45% chance of serious injury
1 star
= 46% or greater chance of serious injury

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What is the difference between a full frontal test and an offset crash test? Does NHTSA do both?

The NHTSA frontal crash test crashes the full width of the front of a vehicle into a rigid barrier. This maximizes the energy absorbed by the front of the vehicle so that the occupant compartment is more likely to remain intact. The full frontal tests produce high level occupant compartment decelerations, making them very demanding of the restraint systems, thus providing better information on the safety features and their performance.

In offset crash tests, like those performed by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) http://www.iihs.org/, only one side of a vehicle's front end is hit, thus a smaller area of the structure absorbs the energy from the crash. Offset crashes are more demanding on the structure of a vehicle, and intrusion into the occupant compartment is more likely in these crashes. NHTSA does not currently perform the offset crash test.

The results from NHTSA’s full-width frontal crash and IIHS’ offset frontal crash test complement each other. They can be used together to assess overall frontal crash safety in terms of the effectiveness of restraint systems and the integrity of the occupant compartment.

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How does NHTSA perform the side crash test and how are vehicles rated?

For side crash tests, crash-test dummies representing an average-sized adult are placed in the driver and rear passenger seats (driver’s side) and secured with the vehicle's seat belts. The side crash test represents an intersection-type collision with a 3,015 pound barrier moving at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. The moving barrier is covered with material that has "give" to replicate the front of a vehicle. Since all tested vehicles are impacted by the same size barrier, it is possible to compare all vehicles with each other when looking at side crash protection ratings.

Instruments measure the force of impact to each dummy's head, neck, chest, and pelvis. Side-collision star ratings indicate the chance of a serious chest injury for the driver, front seat passenger, and the rear seat passenger (first and second row occupants). Head injury, although measured, is not currently included in the star rating. An excessive head injury score (HIC greater than 1,000) is reported separately as a safety concern. As with the frontal crash ratings, a serious injury is one requiring immediate hospitalization and may be life threatening.

5 stars
= 5% or less chance of serious injury
4 stars
= 6% to 10% chance of serious injury
3 stars
= 11% to 20% chance of serious injury
2 stars
= 21% to 25% chance of serious injury
1 star
= 26% or greater chance of serious injury

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Why doesn't NHTSA do rear impact crash tests?

NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program has a limited budget and must concentrate its testing on front and side-impact crashes which every year are responsible for the highest percentage of deaths and serious injuries.

Aren’t there other agencies or organizations that crash test vehicles?

Yes, there are other organizations throughout the world who also crash test vehicles. NHTSA, in addition to its frontal and side-impact crash tests, is the only organization in the world that currently rates vehicles on rollover resistance. Vehicle crash test ratings can also be found at the following addresses:

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):
http://www.hwysafety.org/vehicle_ratings/ratings.htm

European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP):
http://www.euroncap.com

Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP):
http://www.aaa.asn.au/ancap.htm

New Car Assessment Japan:
http://www.nasva.go.jp/english

Note: Each organization’s test results are generally for vehicles sold in its respective country or region. Vehicle specifications, and therefore crash results, may vary between countries. As such, comparing the test results for a similarly named vehicle model from different countries should be done with care, as there can be differences in the testing protocols and rating systems as well as the vehicle model itself.

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If NHTSA didn't test my vehicle, how do I know if it's safe?

All vehicles sold in the United States must comply with Federal motor vehicle safety standards ( CFR Title 49: Chapter V, Part 571). These standards cover a broad range of safety concerns, from windshield wipers and brakes to crashworthiness and fuel integrity. To test compliance with these standards, NHTSA conducts a 30 mph frontal impact test and a 33.5 mph side impact test.

Note: NHTSA’s NCAP crash tests, 35 mph for frontal crash tests and 38.5 mph for side-impact crash tests, are performed at 5 mph more than the corresponding FMVSS compliance test speeds. Higher speeds create more crash "energy" or power and inflict potentially more damage on the vehicle and its occupants.

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Does NHTSA have crash data on vehicles made before 1990?

NHTSA began frontal crash tests in 1979, so there is crash information available on vehicles starting in that year. Information prior to 1990 is archived, and is not listed on the web. This data is available to consumers. Send an e-mail to crash.test@nhtsa.dot.gov with the year, make, and model of the vehicle to obtain the crash information.

How do I get more detailed crash data and rollover measurement data?

There are generally three ways to get more detailed test data:

Via the U.S. DOT’s docket management system. Vehicle crash test reports from 1999 to present, and details of rollover ratings from 2001 to present, can be downloaded from the DOT docket at http://dms.dot.gov. Conduct a Simple Search and use the following docket numbers:

  • For detailed rollover rating reports (2001 to present), enter docket #8298.
  • For detailed frontal NCAP crash test reports (1999 to present), enter docket #4962.

  • For detailed side NCAP crash test reports (1999 to present), enter docket #3835.

Via NHTSA’s Research and Development web page. Accessible at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/database/nrd-11/veh_db.html. This NHTSA Vehicle Crash Test Database contains engineering data measured for several NHTSA program offices involved in crash testing vehicles, including Research, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), as well as Compliance. To view NCAP crash test data, ensure your search is limited to New Car Assessment Tests.

Via the National Crash Analysis Center (NCAC). For a fee, all of NHTSA’s NCAP vehicle test reports and high speed films are available from George Washington University’s National Crash Analysis Center Library, Suite 203, 20101 Academic Way, Ashburn, VA 22011. Phone (703) 726-8236. Fax (703)726-8358. http://www.ncac.gwu.edu/filmlibrary/index.html.

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What is TWG and why is it important?

TWG stands for "Technical Working Group" and is a group of experts representing the automotive and insurance industries that has developed voluntary side-impact air bag (SAB) testing procedures to minimize the potential risk of SAB-related injuries for out-of-position occupants. SABs are not currently regulated by the Federal government.

If a manufacturer’s vehicle has met the SAB out-of-position test procedures, then it means the manufacturer has reported to the government that all SABs in the vehicle have successfully completed the full battery of tests specified under the voluntary guidelines. Vehicles that meet the voluntary guidelines will have an "M" in the column labeled "SAB Out of Position Testing" in the Safety Features charts of the safercar.gov site.

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Rollover FAQs

Glossary of terms and abbreviations

TBT - To Be (crash) Tested.

TBR - To Be Rated (for rollover resistance).

ND - No Data. The instruments used to record the test data malfunctioned.

STS - Seat Too Small. The testing laboratory could not reasonably seat the crash test dummy in the rear seat.

UR - Under Review. The data from this test is being examined for quality assurance. This does not mean the vehicle has an unsatisfactory score.

w/SAB - The vehicle tested was equipped with a side air bag.

High Likelihood of Thigh Injury – Force to the thigh (femur) during the frontal crash was excessive (greater than 2,250 lbs) and likely to cause serious thigh injury.

High Likelihood of Pelvic Injury - Acceleration to the pelvis during the side crash was excessive (greater than 130 g’s) and likely to cause serious pelvic injury.

High Likelihood of Head Injury – Force to the head during the side crash was excessive (greater than 1,000 HIC) and likely to cause serious head injury.

How do the forces received by the test dummy during the crash test reflect what would happen to a real person?

The injury risk curves obtained from the test dummy in the crash demonstrate the probability of a serious injury to a particular area of a real person’s body in that crash. The risk curves are shown below. The lower the injury number, the less chance that a person would be injured in that crash.

Frontal Crash (chest injury),
Frontal Crash (leg injury),
Frontal Crash (head injury),
Side Crash (chest injury).

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