Explained: Car Safety Ratings

Health and safety has gone a bit mad in recent years, but there are a few areas and industries in which, actually, that’s a good thing. Theme parks? Absolutely. Aeroplanes? Paramount. And what about cars? Well, many new advancements in technology have been applied to the automotive industry, specifically to improve road safety and thankfully, Euro NCAP is on hand to put a selection of popular vehicles through rigorous testing to rate the safety standards of them all. Here’s how that works.

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Impact shot of car during a crash test

What Are Car Safety Ratings?

The safety rating given to any particular vehicle is a grading based on how well that car or van is able to protect its occupants and other road users in the event of a crash, plus how well-equipped it is to prevent an accident in the first place.

There are four categories – adult occupant, child occupant, vulnerable road users & safety assist – that are judged and given a percentage (with 100% being the highest standard of safety possible). These categories combine to give the vehicle an overall star rating from one to five.

How To Check Your Car’s Safety Ratings

Since the ratings are dished out by Euro NCAP, the simplest way of discovering how safe you are on the road is to go directly to the source. They have a convenient webpage that allows you to search for particular cars, look at new releases, and compare cars that you might be interested in buying. You can browse the ratings on their site here.

What Is A Good Car Safety Rating?

To quote the Euro NCAP website directly, “the more stars, the better.” Generally speaking, that’s how these things work after all. A car with a five-out-of-five rating will offer the best tech on the market.

That being said, a car with zero stars isn’t necessarily unsafe; those vehicles simply have the bare minimum, legally required safety features. You should think that they’re dangerous, the manufacturers just haven’t gone the extra mile like those who’ve gained five-star ratings have.

Do Car Safety Ratings Look At Rear Crash?

Yes, the ratings awarded by Euro NCAP take into account impacts from all angles – head on, side, and from the rear. This test also looks specifically at one of driving’s most common injuries – whiplash. The technology the vehicle offers in order to keep you safe, along with the sturdiness of the car itself and the seating inside it, is considered in order to give it an overall rating that’s accurate and fair.

How Does A Car’s Safety Rating Affect Insurance?

It’s true that a car’s safety rating will impact the insurance premiums you’re offered when getting quotes. Vehicles with higher ratings will garner lower premiums, meaning you’ll have to pay less to insure them. However, the difference in insurance cost can be negligible because there are so many other factors taken into account, like where you live, how old you are and how many years no-claims-bonus you have. 

What Car Has The Highest Safety Rating?

At the time of writing, the best car on the market for safety is the Tesla Model S. It scored an average of 92% which is incredibly safe, and scored above 90% on three of the four categories (only dropping to 85% in the ‘vulnerable road user’ department.

That being said, the gap between the Tesla Model S and many, many other vehicles is miniscule – with Tesla’s bigger offering, the Model Y, averaging at 91%. In 2023, the best car of the year was the VW ID.7, giving the German car an average of 86.5%… which still sits comfortably in the five-star range. 2024’s ratings are not available at the time of writing.

What Car Has The Worst Safety Rating?

Now let’s talk about the accolade that no manufacturer wants. Are there any vehicles on Euro NCAP’s listings with zero stars? Actually, there are three! And worse still, two of them are from the same Italian car maker.

Renault’s little electric ZOE was given a no-star review in 2021, with an average score of 37.5%. The safety assistance technology really let it down, with it achieving just 14% in the category.

However, it’s Fiat that takes both silver and gold in the ‘worst safety ratings on record’ stakes. Back in 2017, the Punto got zero stars and a woeful 36.5% average rating – including a big fat 0% score in safety assistance!

But the biggest loser? It’s 2018’s Fiat Panda. This car may have slightly better safety assistance tech than the Punto, hitting the lofty heights of a whole 7% in the category, but with 45% in adult safety, 47% in vulnerable road user safety, and a terrible 16% in what some would say is the most important category of all – child safety –  the Panda’s fate is written in black and white: 28.75% overall, and not even close to a single star.

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