I recently read an article published on April 3 in the New York Times that shared some incredible statistics. According to article, 1.4 million vehicles were sold in the United States in March 2012. In the market for a new vehicle myself, I started thinking about the car buying process. There’s a lot of information to take in when considering a vehicle to buy and a large portion of that is the safety ratings that vehicle has been given. What goes into those ratings? How are they given? Who gives them? The National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) work tirelessly to ensure that Americans are in safe while traveling across the states through the standards they set forth for manufacturers, the tests they perform for ratings, and the findings they release to the public.
Established in 1970 as an offshoot of the National Highway Safety Bureau, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) implements safety standards and releases ratings for new vehicles on the market. The organization, which falls under the Department of Transportation, carries out the programs from the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety and the Highway Safety Acts of 1966 and the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972. With the goal of helping to reduce injury and death in motor vehicle accidents, as well as the financial impacts associated with them, the NHTSA investigates safety defects in motor vehicles, sets fuel economy standards, and promotes other safety standards for automotive equipment such as safety belts and car seats. These regulations and standards are what vehicle manufacturers use to guide them in the process of designing and manufacturing cars for the market.
Once a vehicle makes it to the market, the NHTSA begins testing for vehicle safety ratings. They usually tend to purchase a handful of each make straight from the dealership, without notice, to prevent any type of manipulation that might impact the vehicle’s rating. Automobiles are compared to others in their same class (mid sized cars compared to other mid sized cars, SUVs are compared to other SUVs, etc). These star ratings, from one to five (one being the lowest rating, five being the highest), are demonstrative of the vehicles safety when involved in a side impact crash, a front crash, and the rollover rating for each particular vehicle. These tests, alone, aren’t the only ones that impact how consumers perceive the overall safety of a car, truck, or SUV.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs tests of their own for vehicles on the market. As a not for profit, independent organization, the IIHS is a scientific and educational unit that promotes the reduction of injury and death in car crashes. In conjunction with the Highway Loss Data Institute, IIHS is supported by a handful of auto insurers and releases information on vehicle safety, motorcycle safety, airbags, and tips for beginner drivers. The results of the tests are defined from “bad” to “good” and highlight vehicle safety for the passengers of a vehicle when involved in an accident.
The results from both the NHTSA and IIHS are good measures for the safety of an individual vehicle and should be taken into consideration when looking for a vehicle on the market. Although they’re not the end all be all of safety, these test results are a good indicator of how your potential vehicle stands up to others like it.
About the Author: A Missouri native, Ellison believes in the importance of vehicle safety and believes in the advocacy of automotive testing in the United States. Currently in the market to purchase a vehicle, she has been looking at new and used cars at Toyota of West County.