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What is a Crash Test, and How Does it Work

What is a Crash Test, and How Does it Work

Most vehicles sold in the United States and in most other countries undergo a series of crash tests in a lab environment. These specialized tests take different vehicle models and crash them into concrete barriers at varying speeds and angles. Various high-speed cameras and advanced sensors capture exactly what happens to the vehicle and its passengers during the crash. All that information is given to the government and interested car buyers to let them know how safe a particular vehicle is. Car crash test results are one of the key tools that buyers have to choose the right vehicle for their families, and it's an important measurement that everyone should look at.

Sophisticated Dummies are Used For Crash Testing

Specialized dummies are used to analyze car crashes effectively. Most of the time, the dummies are the size of an average man in the United States. Each dummy is designed to match a human body's shape, weight, and design. The materials selected even mimic the human body design down to the joints and how the spine works. The dummies are also equipped with measurement instruments, enabling accurate crash test results that offer useful information. The dummies rely on a series of accelerometers, load sensors, and motion sensors to determine how injured a person would be during an accident in specific car types and in different accident situations.

Painting the Dummies

Before running one of the test scenarios, researchers apply paint to different parts of the dummy's body that are most likely to be involved in an impact. One color gets applied to the head, another to the chest, and this continues for all the important areas of the body. Once the test scenario is complete, the sensor data from the dummy's integrated sensors is used to determine if any serious injuries occur. The interior is then examined for paint that shows where the dummy obtained those major injuries. Scientists use this information to make adjustments to make the vehicle safer for different crash situations.

Crash Testing Car Seats

Crash Testing Car Seats

Companies such as Consumer Reports independently crash-test car seats to determine their safety. These companies look at how infants and small children are hurt during different impacts while in various car seat types and develop car seat crash test ratings. Parents can use these ratings to find the safest seats for their children. The crash test ratings for car seats are based on how safe they are, as well as how easy they are to use.

Understanding Car Crash Testing Ratings

Crash test ratings are important measurements that help the government ensure only safe vehicles are being sold and to help car buyers choose the safest vehicle for their money. A few different organizations are involved in crash test ratings, but the two most often cited and used are the NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) from NHTSA and the IIHS test ratings. Understanding how the ratings are formed and what ratings mean will help you choose vehicles you can rely on. Combine this information with a reliable Vehicle History Search, and you'll know which vehicle is right for you.

NHTSA New Car Assessment Program

This car crash testing program crashes cars at 35 MPH in a few different scenarios and measures how likely a set of dummies is to be injured. The less likely the dummies are to be hurt, the higher the vehicle's safety rating.

What Injuries Affect the Star Rating

To generate its star rating, the NHTSA looks at specific injury types depending on the crash type.

Frontal impacts, head injuries, chest impacts, and the load on a femur are what matter. These three measurements determine how likely you will be seriously hurt in an accident.

During a frontal crash test, the star rating scales are given based on how likely you are to be seriously injured.

  • Five-Star - 10% or less
  • Four-Star - 11% - 20%
  • Three-Star - 21% - 35%
  • Two-Star - 36% - 45%
  • One-Star - 46% or more

For side-impact crashes, the researchers look at the Lateral Pelvic acceleration measurements and thoracic trauma instead.

The star ratings are determined by your odds of being hurt here too, but the percentages are different for the star ratings. You must have a 5% chance of being seriously injured or less for a five-star rating.

  • Five-Star 5% or less
  • Four-Star 6% - 10%
  • Three-Star 11% - 20%
  • Two-Star - 21% - 25%
  • One-Star - 26% or more

IIHS Tests

IIHS stands for Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; it's a non-profit organization backed by insurance companies to test the most common new vehicles for safety.

Unlike the government's NHTSA, which looks closely at two major tests, the IIHS looks at the six crash test results. The tests are the following.

  • Driver's-Side - Small Overlap on the Front
  • Driver's Side - Moderate-Overlap on the Front
  • Roof-Strength
  • Side
  • Passenger-Side - Small Overlap
  • Head Restraint Testing

These tests are each different from what the NHTSA looks at, and they should be viewed as a compliment to what the NHTSA is doing. When evaluating a vehicle, you should look to see that it has a 4-star or 5-star rating from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS to ensure the vehicle is truly safe and reliable, according to most auto crash testing.

Cars Must Meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety (FMVSS) Standards

Any car sold in the United States legally must meet the standards set in place by the FMVSS. These standards look at how a car handles specific crash situations, but also things like turn signal bulb brightness levels, airbags, seat belt force limiters, and more. The FMVSS standards are lower than NHTSA standards, but they are there to ensure unsafe cars aren't being added to the marketplace.

Crash test ratings are important indicators used to sell vehicles today. That's why the NHTSA performs its own tests and publishes its results to give drivers unbiased safety results to look at.

Is a Smart Car Crash Test Different?

Smart cars are so much different than full-sized vehicles, but they undergo the same crash tests overall. These vehicles are crashed at the same speeds and must undergo all the same scenarios. Smart cars drive on the same roads as other vehicles, so it's only natural to test them in the same ways.

These smaller vehicles are generally less safe than full-sized cars, but they are equipped with more extensive protective features in many cases, including a full roll cage. It's important to realize that most smart cars are less safe than full-sized vehicles, but they can keep their occupants alive in most crash scenarios thanks to extensive safety equipment.

Crash Testing is Sophisticated and Important

Auto crash testing is essential to ensure that new cars sold today are safe and to help auto buyers choose the safest options when making a purchase. A great deal of thought and technology goes into vehicle crash testing, and you should look closely at ratings from the IIHS and the NHTSA before buying your next vehicle.

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