Car Safety Ratings: NHTSA Crash Testing

In 1978, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as part of the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), initiated the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program. The program provides consumers with information about the crash protection, rollover safety, and general car safety ratings of new vehicles. NHTSA is the only organization that rates rollover resistance in addition to frontal- and side-impact performance.


Initially, the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program measured only the level of safety for vehicle occupants in frontal crashes. Side-impact ratings were introduced for the 1997 model year; rollover assessments were introduced for the 2001 model year; and a side pole test was added in 2011.


Frontal Crash Test Safety Rating

The frontal crash test evaluates injury to the head, neck, chest, and legs of the driver and front seat passenger. Vehicles are crashed into a fixed barrier at 35 miles per hour, simulating a head-on collision between two similar vehicles traveling at that speed. To earn a five-star car safety rating in the frontal crash test, there must be less than a 10 percent chance of injury to vehicle occupants.

Side Barrier Test Safety Rating

In the side barrier test, the side crash rating rates performance in an intersection-type collision, in which a 3,015-pound barrier travels at 38.5 miles per hour into a standing vehicle. Crash test dummies are placed in the driver, front passenger, and rear passenger seats on the driver's side of the vehicle. The front seat safety rating evaluates injury to the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis of the driver and passenger. The rear seat safety rating evaluates injury to the passenger's head and pelvis.

Side Pole Test Safety Rating

The NHTSA side pole test simulates an impact with a narrow, fixed object such as a utility pole or tree. In this test, a crash test dummy is placed in the driver's seat, and the car is angled at 75 degrees and is pulled at the driver's seat position at 20 miles per hour into a pole 25 centimeters in diameter. The crucial sites of body impact that are measured are the head, chest, lower spine, abdomen, and pelvis. NHTSA combines the driver front seat ratings from the side pole test and the side barrier test with the rear seat occupant rating from the side barrier test. These scores are combined to assign a total side crash rating, which is compared to the performance of an average vehicle in the fleet. A five-star safety rating demonstrates that side crash injury risk is much lower than the average.

Rollover Test Safety Rating

The rollover test subjects vehicles to a handling maneuver known as a "fishhook," which is a quick left-hand turn at speeds of 35 to 50 miles per hour. The test simulates a driver overcorrecting the vehicle's steering in an emergency situation. A five-star safety rating in the rollover category means that there is less than a 10 percent likelihood of a rollover.

The NHTSA safety ratings give consumers more information on which to base new vehicle purchases. From a manufacturer's perspective, the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program provides incentive to produce safer vehicles. In the safety ratings category, Buick stands out from among the rest of the luxury automotive manufacturers for providing some of the safest vehicles on the road. With the most recent car safety accolades received by the all-wheel-drive Buick Encore crossover, all of Buick's current models have 5-Star NHTSA Safety Ratings.

Safety is a top priority for Buick, and the ratings results speak for themselves.​