Surprising Winner in New NHTSA Crash Test

BMW 5 Series sedan

If you ever feel like no one cares about you, just remember that the good people at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have got your back. Or at least they are doing all they can to keep you from dying in a car crash. Hey, that’s something, right?

The NHTSA has used its Five-Star Safety Ratings System for years to test our nation’s fleet of road-going vehicles. The makers of five-star vehicles routinely use their newly bestowed crash rating to tout their unwavering commitment to safety in advertisements across the land. The problem, however, was that too many vehicles were earning the coveted top prize. Does that mean modern vehicles are finally as safe as possible? Is the job of the NHTSA finally complete?

Of course not. Rather than continuing to dish out five-star ratings, the NHTSA did the only rational thing: made its test harder.

The first results of the new test are already in, and the results are surprising!

Under the NHTSA’s new rating system, all tested vehicles are given a single rating of one to five stars encompassing front and side impact safety as well as resistance to rollovers. A total of 33 cars were tested in this first round, and 29 of them achieved a perfectly respectable four stars. The cars are safe, but with room for improvement. Only two cars received the coveted five-star rating, while one received three stars, and one earned a lowly two-star designation.

The two five-star winners are the BMW 5 Series (a car I recently fell in love with) and, prepare yourself for this, the Hyundai Sonata. The Toyota Camry received the three-star rating, while the Nissan Versa was the lone two-star “winner.”

The upgraded ratings system now evaluates side pole crash testing and crash prevention technologies. In the pole crash test, a vehicle gets slid diagonally into a pole, which mimics a car sliding into a tree or power pole. And, according to the NHTSA press release:

the tests will use female crash test dummies to simulate crash scenarios involving women, not just men.

How fascinating. I wonder what differentiates gender in crash test dummies, and what parts of the body are inspected for damage. Regardless, it just goes to show the NHTSA is absolutely committed to keeping us, and all the important parts of our bodies, safe.

Do the NHTSA’s crash ratings affect what kind of car you buy?


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  1. In my previous post, I should have said, “keep the five-star rating at its current threshold.”

  2. Yes, I would say the NHTSA ratings affect the car I buy; at least it’s part of the decision-making process.
    I think it’s great that NHTSA has made the tests tougher, as many cars were recently attaining the five stars and it was hard to differentiate the “five stars” from the “five star pluses.”
    So, now, for a vehicle that has changed little from model year 2010 to model year 2011, it may have gone from a five-star rating to a four-star rating.
    This is misleading to consumers shopping a used car; it appears that the 2011 car is less safe than the 2010 car.
    It’s even more confusing when, say a few years from now, someone compares a used 2011 car from “brand H” to a used 2010 car from “brand F,” as an example.
    Consumers need to be able to compare apples to apples.
    Make the tests tougher, if you need to, but keep the five star rating.
    If a car exceeds the five-star threshold, give it six stars. Or, introduce a new category to further differentiate the achievers from the overachievers.
    But this new ratings system is ill-advised.

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