The Evolution of Car Safety Ratings

Technological advances over the past few decades are evident in every aspect of our daily lives, from smartphones to vehicle improvements. Today vehicle safety is typically one of the most critical factors considered when buying a new car, but that has not always been the case. Vehicle safety rating agencies have had to keep up with the desires of the public by continuously improving their standards over time. Let's take a look at some of the most significant vehicle safety changes that have occurred since the 70s, a time when vehicle-related fatalities in the United States were at their peak.

Agencies That Rate Vehicle Safety

The US has two primary organizations that evaluate vehicle safety in the US. Although founded for different reasons, they both play essential roles in developing vehicle safety norms.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – NHTSA (formed in 1970)

Currently, NHTSA does a lot more than award car safety ratings based on crash tests: its mission is "to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce traffic-related health care and other economic costs."

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety - IIHS (formed in 1959)

The IIHS is a non-profit organization funded by the Insurance Industry. It programs cover everything from child car seats to research innovations like the "small overlap frontal crash test" to determine the effects of hitting a tree or light pole.

Crash tests

1970 - 1993:
Created in 1970 because of a dramatic increase in fatal car accidents, it was not until 1978 that NHTSA began using data from crash test dummies to rate vehicles for frontal protection. They tested 35 vehicles, all 1978 models by crashing each directly into a wall at 30 mph. Although most failed, passing the test became a standard in 1982.
As safety tests evolved, the importance of car safety became more evident. In June 1978, Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos due to a failed design that left it vulnerable to erupting in flames when hit from behind due to an overexposed gas tank. However, it wasn't until 1993 that the NHTSA introduced its 5-Star Safety Rating system to help inform the public about safer choices when purchasing a vehicle.
2000 - 2018:
In 2004 (now was launched to facilitate access to ratings and other vital transportation issues for consumers. In 2010, the United States implemented an enhanced 5-star safety rating system. To qualify, auto manufacturers selling vehicles in the US have to incorporate specific safety technologies into their products before a specified deadline. This system is the reason why all 5-star rated new cars sold today contain a rearview safety video system. In 2022, automatic brake systems will be another required technology that manufacturers must include.
The IIHS also rates car safety, but it uses a different system and awards qualifying vehicles with its designation of Top Safety Pick.
The work of both organizations is a major reason why safety standards have reached a higher level for drivers and passengers.

Consider Safety Before Buying

When thinking about buying a vehicle, whether new or used, keep these things in mind:
  • Look for a car that is a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS and also has at least a 4-star rating from the NHTSA.
  • Think beyond miles per gallon. Smaller, lighter cars can be gas savers. Make sure they have the safety features in place to be life savers too.
  • Before buying a used vehicle, check the NHTSA's website to make sure there are no recalls for that year make and model. If you do find a recall, make sure it has been addressed before you take the car on the road.
  • Consider looking up a used car's accident history too. If repairs aren't done correctly, they can compromise the safety systems of the vehicle.

Another thing to consider is whether you are covered should an accident occur. You want a company that will make sure repairs are done correctly and get you back on the road quickly. Call one of our friendly agents at 1-800-INFINITY to discuss your options for an auto insurance policy or visit our website for a free quote.

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