Several different elements affect a vehicle’s overall safety capability
Crash tests. Frontal- and side- and rear impact crash tests are conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You’ll find crash-test ratings for all tested models on their Web sites.
You’ll also find crash-test results going back 10 years in the used car vehicle profiles. NHTSA revised its testing standards for the 2011 model year. This means that test results from prior years can’t be compared with results from 2011 forward. You can see the NHTSA and IIHS ratings on our vehicle profile pages .
Accident avoidance. A vehicle’s ability to help you avoid an accident is just as important as its ability to protect you in a crash. For every accident there are numerous near misses that statistics don’t reflect. Several factors contribute to a vehicle’s accident-avoidance capability, with the two most important being braking and emergency handling. Using our test data, Consumer Reports provides an accident-avoidance Rating on all tested vehicles.
Rollover resistance. Rollover accidents account for about 33 percent of all vehicle-occupant deaths and are of particular concern with SUVs and pickups. To help consumers compare vehicles, NHTSA provides a five-star rating system called the Rollover Resistance Rating (RRR). The RRR is based on two factors: a vehicle’s static stability factor (SSF) and a dynamic rollover test. The SSF, determined from static measurements of the vehicle, essentially indicates how top-heavy it is. The dynamic test simulates a driver having to make a series of sharp steering maneuvers, as can happen in an emergency. Vehicles that tip up fail the test, but it only downgrades the overall star rating slightly.
We think a vehicle that tips up in this type of situation has serious stability problems, and we will not recommend it. RRR ratings are available at www.safercar.gov . Click on the model’s name or star ratings to get more information, and scroll down to “Rollover.” Note that prior to 2004 models, NHTSA used only the SSF to determine rollover ratings, so there are no dynamic test results.
Rear-impact protection. Although rear enders have a low fatality rate they have a high injury rate, especially for whiplash neck injuries. The design of a car’s head restraints and seats are critical factors in how severe a whiplash injury will be. CR evaluates head restraints for all seating positions in every tested vehicle. Any problems are noted in our road-test reports.
Another good source for information on rear-impact protection is the IIHS website. The institute conducts evaluations of head restraints and performs dynamic rear-impact tests that measure how well the seat/head-restraint combinations in different models protect against whiplash.
Blind zones. Every year, children are injured and killed because drivers don’t see them while backing up. A contributing factor is that some larger vehicles, such as SUVs and pickups, have larger blind zones—the area behind a vehicle that the driver can’t see. See our report on the dangers of blind spots .
To check a vehicle’s blind spot yourself, sit in the driver’s seat of the parked vehicle while someone stands in back and holds out a hand at about waist level. Have the person walk back slowly until you can see the hand through the rear window. This will give you an idea of how big that vehicle’s blind spot is.
Power-window switches. Some vehicles have rocker- or toggle-type power-window switches that will raise the window when they are pressed down or forward. This is a very risky design because a child who is leaning out of an open window can accidentally kneel on the switch and close the window, possibly causing injury or death. A better design is a lever switch, which raises the window only when it’s pulled upward.
See our cars Safety section for more information.