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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Stagg

The Thing About Safety Ratings

Time lapse of white car in traffic
Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash

When we get behind the wheel of a car, we are trusting that the tests it has undergone before going to market have ensured that it is safe to drive. But a new article published by The National asks an important question - how trustworthy are safety test ratings?

All vehicles go through numerous safety tests before going into production. These tests cover a wide range of territory, ranging from tests that calculate whether seat belts and airbags can restrain passengers to tests that measure how well things like seat and head restraints protect passengers from whiplash. The result of the safety tests is a star-rating, with five-stars being the highest safety rating possible.

That numerous such tests are an integral part of the process, and that car companies work hard to garner five-star ratings, is a great thing. But as Gautam Sharma from The National suggests, there are definite limitations to what safety tests can tell us.

"One important factor to note is that real-world crashes have almost infinite variables, whereas the tests carried out by each of these organisations are highly specific and can't possibly represent every type of crash that occurs on public roads across the globe."

One of the problems that Sharma points to is the tendency for tests to use a set speed for all tests. Another is the lack of, or inadequacy of, female test dummies. These things are small, but they can have a real impact in real-world situations.

While the above may sound worrying, the current problems with the testing process shouldn't overly discourage buyers. They represent areas where improvement is needed, but that doesn't mean that safety testing is meaningless. Safety testing continues to be an integral part of the process, and while 100% accuracy can't be guaranteed across collision type, they give a good idea of the overall safety of the car. However, Sharma leaves off with some important advice: "... if a car you're considering buying comes across with a one or two-star rating, the safest bet is to steer clear."

For more on the series of tests undergone before a vehicle goes to market, and for a more in-depth analysis of their potential pitfalls, check out the original article in The National.


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