Vehicle safety ratings cover every aspect of a car. Research facilities test cars to determine how they rate among their counterparts, and then release the data to be viewed by consumers.
Vehicle safety ratings are divided into three categories: the weight of a vehicle, passive safety features that help people stay alive and uninjured in a crash, and active safety features that help drivers avoid accidents. Larger, heavier cars with poor ratings may easily produce better results than smaller cars with good ratings. In addition to a car that crashes well (Passive Safety), you should look for a car that can avoid a crash altogether (Active Safety). Keep in mind that all of this testing was done with test dummies wearing seat belts and shoulder harnesses. Without them, a 15-mile per hour crash could prove fatal.
Four-wheel-drive pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are designed to be driven for work, hauling, and off-road purposes. They were not designed to be people movers, and do not handle nearly as well as passenger cars or mini vans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that SUVs are four times more likely to roll over than passenger cars in high-speed maneuvers. In addition, SUV-to-car collisions are six times more likely to kill the occupants of the smaller vehicle when compared to a normal car-to-car collision. You may be safer inside an SUV, but you are at greater risk of killing others in the event of an accident.
Part of a car safety rating is it being able to meet minimum crash worthiness standards as set down by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Larger and heavier cars, however, are usually safer in a collision than smaller ones. If a heavier vehicle collides head-on with a lighter one, the lighter will suffer substantially more damage. Drivers under 20 experience a much higher percentage of traffic fatalities when compared to other drivers, so consider the safety of a large or mid-sized sedan for inexperienced drivers. Large cars offer increased levels of comfort and roominess when compared to their smaller siblings, and today's fuel injected engines allow mid-sized, 6-cylinder automobiles to enjoy remarkably good gas mileage.
Vehicle safety ratings also include passive safety results. Passive safety features help drivers and passengers stay alive and uninjured in a crash. Size is a safety feature: bigger is safer. In relation to their numbers on the road, small cars account for more than twice as many deaths as large cars.
Restraint systems are also crucial. Safety belts are the best safety device ever developed for the automobile. First installed in the 1950s, they have been mandatory equipment since 1967. Initial use was low (20% in 1970), but education and legislation increased their usage to over 70% by 1987. Modern restraints have automatic seat-belt tension devices to pick up the slack and stretch that occurs in an accident, providing better occupant protection and additional space for the airbag deployment. It's important to remember that even though airbags help reduce serious injuries; safety belts are still needed for full protection.
Seat belts and airbags work together in a collision. Driver and passenger-side airbags are now standard equipment on every new motor vehicle sold in the US. Most used cars made after 1996 have them as well. Side-impact airbags greatly increase protection. Most European automakers offer them as standard equipment, and most Asian and domestic manufacturers offer them on their more expensive models. Despite some bad press, airbags save thousands of lives every year. Manufacturers have reintroduced the two-stage airbag to avoid potential injuries to children and small adults from cheaper one-stage designs. It is still vital, however, that children ride in the back seat of any motor vehicle.
Insurance companies use vehicle safety ratings to determine premiums. Using a specific car safety rating, the insurance company will look for possible liabilities that could cost them money. The lower the vehicle safety ratings, the higher your premium, so it is always in your best interest to always check into the vehicle safety ratings of the car you are planning to purchase. This will save you money and may save your life.