Euro NCAP, backed by the European Commission, organises simulated crash-tests and provides European motoring consumers with independent assessments of the safety performance of some of the most popular cars on sale. Formed in 1997, it is backed by seven European Governments as well as motoring and consumer organisations in every EC country, with the UK’s Thatcham Crash Laboratory being one of six active testing participants.
When the first results were issued in 1997, car manufacturers heavily criticised Euro NCAP, its tests, and its ratings. One of many claims was that the assessment criteria were so severe that no car could achieve four stars for occupant protection, but by July of that year Euro NCAP was able to announce that Volvo’s S40 had become the first four-star rated car for occupant protection; by June 2001 Renault’s Laguna became its first five-star rated car.
Each year, a selection is made of the most popular and interesting new cars that are entering the market, although Euro NCAP can also sometimes test cars that are already on sale. When a car has been nominated for testing, Euro NCAP asks the manufacturer for information about the best-selling variant and the fitment of safety equipment across Europe, from which a representative test model variant is selected. In some cases, Euro NCAP may allow optional safety technology to be fitted on the test variant. Up to four test cars are required for an assessment by Euro NCAP and Euro NCAP will generally buy cars anonymously from dealers, as consumers do, either from one or several dealers. Once at the test laboratory, vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and are checked with manufacturers to confirm specifications and to ensure that, when they are released, results are representative of current production cars.
From 2009, previous to which, individual ratings were given for adult, child, and pedestrian protection, one overall safety star rating is now given, derived from scores in four areas: adult protection, child protection, pedestrian protection and safety assist. This is calculated by weighing the four percentage scores with respect to each other, and ensuring that no area is underachieving. The underlying dynamic tests used have been developed from those designed in earlier years, with the addition of a test for Whiplash neck injury protection in rear impacts. Euro NCAP chooses these types of tests to cover the range of accidents that are the dominant causes of serious and fatal injuries. Much of the testing employs different types of steel-skeletoned, rubber-skinned, dummies packed with sensing equipment that cost in excess of £100,000 to build. The head is made of aluminium, covered in rubber “flesh” and inside three accelerometers are set at right angles, each providing data on the forces and accelerations to which the brain would be subjected in a crash. Their necks feature measuring devices to detect the bending, shearing and tension forces, as the head is thrown forwards and backwards during any impact. Steel ribs are fitted to the dummies, with equipment that records deflection of the rib cage in any frontal impact, causing injuries that result when excessive forces exerted on the chest, such as from the steering wheel or seat belt. A special dummy named EuroSid 2 is fitted with sensors to assess abdominal injury, pelvic damage, and hip fractures or joint dislocation. Other dummies measure thigh and leg damage and foot and ankle damage that may occur in the footwell area.
Euro NCAP now also considers and suitably rewards advanced safety technology, like crash avoidance systems, speed limiters, active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking systems, and blind spot monitoring. With the standard fitment of electronic stability control (ESC) systems now legally obligatory, it also performs the so called “sine-with dwell” track test on all test cars, in order to check out its ESC system for its effectiveness. If you’re buying a new car, or a used one, particularly for a young or new driver, you would be well advised to find, and then consider its Euro NCAP ratings, for your own safety, and that of your loved ones.