Car Safety Ratings 101: ANCAP & Driver Safety

It’s generally accepted that the more stars from Euro NCAP a car achieves, the higher the driver safety. To an extent, that’s true – but a five-star car tested today is in no way comparable to the first car to achieve a five-star rating, the Renault Laguna, in 2001. Driver safety has come a long way in 20 years. Launched in 1997, off the back of a UK Department for Transport pilot test with six superminis, Euro NCAP has now tested more than 500 cars. The programme is operated independently from Brussels, with a number of partner members made up of governments, research bodies and automotive associations.

There are six test facilities across Europe, including Thatcham Research in the UK. Each partner member funds the testing of at least one model per year, although car manufacturers can sponsor their own cars to support driver safety research. The process is the same, regardless of funding, and the process remains independent from manufacturers. Once a model has been chosen for testing, Euro NCAP will look at manufacturer data on the best-selling variants across Europe, to select one particular variant for testing.

Euro NCAP testing generally makes use of up to four vehicles, which, if the vehicle is already on sale, will be bought anonymously from dealerships to ensure the results are a fair sample of production vehicles. Vehicles have to be fully type approved, legally saleable to the general public and from the main production run to be tested under the scheme.

As vehicle safety and the scheme itself have evolved as has driver safety, the number of areas tested in a vehicle has changed considerably. Euro NCAP recommends that, when comparing vehicles, the full score is taken into account, not just the top-level star rating. Euro NCAP has a history of adding new criteria to the test, and today, as safety technologies develop and become more mainstream in the market, the body looks to integrate them within the assessment process, so that they can count towards overall scores.

Points for driver safety assistance technologies, such as the presence of electronic stability control (ESC), were introduced in 2009. Three years later, ESC testing was added to the scoring process. No longer was the presence of ESC adequate to achieve the score – the ESC system had to perform well in a robot-controlled test. However, now that ESC is a mandatory fit, it has been removed from the test.

In January 2014, autonomous emergency braking was added towards the overall drive safety rating. The addition also covered systems including lane departure warnings. Euro NCAP began testing in 2013, ahead of the inclusion, to allow manufacturers and industry to understand their scoring criteria, and to provide a baseline level. As new driver safety technologies grow and develop, it’s certain that Euro NCAP will update its testing procedures to follow.

But back to the first five-star car for a moment: the Laguna. In 2001, it achieved its five-star driver safety rating for adult occupant protection, yet only a two-star rating (out of four) for pedestrian protection. The report at the time said: “The car body proved extremely stable and provided good protection for occupants.” The car also included side-curtain airbags, contributing to its high score. When it came to pedestrian protection, however, the report said “the front of the car is unforgiving”.

Fast-forward to 2015, and the 2001 single-page report has given way to a comprehensive 10-page document. The Renault Kadjar, which could be seen as the Laguna’s equivalent in the present day Renault line-up, has just been awarded an overall five-star driver safety rating. The stars have given way in assessment areas for percentage scores – they allow much more precise variation in the awards given. For example, the Kadjar receives an adult occupant score of 89%, and a pedestrian protection score of 74%. Like the Laguna, the passenger compartment remained stable, but the vehicle was tested in many more areas in far more detail.

On the Kadjar, “the driver dummy scores maximum points”. Fourteen years after the original test,  the Kadjar’s bumper fared well, providing “good protection for pedestrians’ legs and scoring maximum points”. Not present in the 2001 report were the assessment areas for child occupant protection, and safety assist systems. In the Kadjar’s case, autonomous emergency braking isn’t standard and isn’t expected to be fitted to most cars, so it wasn’t tested.

However, lane departure warning and speed assistance systems were optional, but likely to be fitted to most models, so they made the cut. Discovering how much damage a car would cause to the limbs of a human, in cold, technical language can make grim reading, but the essential testing Euro NCAP facilitates is making death and serious injury from collisions much less likely than it would have been in the past.

What the assessment areas test

Several tests take place for each rating area. The overall score for each area is then converted to a percentage, and the percentage scores for each area contribute to the star rating.

Adult occupant protection

These tests are typically the type you would associate with a ‘crash test’. Two frontal impact tests take place. The first test, at 40mph, involves 40% of the front of the car making impact with a deformable barrier, which Euro NCAP says is consistent with most head-on collisions. This type of incident is responsible for more deaths or serious injuries than any other type of accident so is critical to driver safety.

New for 2015 is a 31mph impact into a full width, rigid barrier. As cars have become stiffer, this test looks at deceleration after impact, to ensure the seatbelts and other restraints are actively protecting vulnerable passengers from severe injuries. In addition, there are side tests: one where the car impacts a pole at 20mph, and the other where a side barrier impacts the car at 30mph. This assessment area also  looks at the effectiveness of city autonomous emergency braking, while seats and head restraints  are tested for protection  against whiplash.

Child occupant protection

The child occupant protection assessment area investigates the performance of child restraint systems and car seats in both the front and side impact tests used by the adult occupant assessments. A range of car seats and child restraints are tested,  in a number of positions throughout the vehicle. Points are also given for use of Isofix fixings for child seats,  clear labelling for front airbag deactivation and ease of seat installation.

Pedestrian protection

Pedestrian protection assessment area looks at three points of impact – the head, upper leg and lower leg. Tests assess the potential risk to injury from the front of the vehicle, including bumpers, bonnet,  and windscreens. Pedestrians  are involved in 14% of all  road casualties.

Safety assist

The safety assist assessment area looks at the most important technologies that support driver safety, help avoid accidents and reduce injuries. Interurban autonomous emergency braking is investigated – it operates at higher speeds than the city braking systems tested under the adult occupant strand. Three scenarios are tested, and  the automatic brake and collision warning notifications are assessed. Euro NCAP says the seatbelt remains the single most effective item of driver safety equipment in cars,  so this element of testing also assesses the volume and duration of reminder alerts.

The fitment of speed assistance systems, that notifies drivers of speed limits on the road the car is driving on, or when the car exceeds a preset threshold, is positively rewarded, while lane departure warning and lane keep support  also receive credit. Euro NCAP said the XC90 offered good protection for adult occupants, with the passenger compartment remaining stable throughout impact. Autonomous emergency braking is standard, to help reduce whiplash, and it activated before collision in all of Euro NCAP’s tests.

Child occupant: 87%

Child dummies were mounted using easily installed fixings in both second and third row seats, with good protection of the body.

Pedestrian protection: 72%

The bumper was said to protect pedestrian legs well, and the bonnet offered good or adequate head protection. Euro NCAP praised the autonomous braking system’s pedestrian detection, but added that the pedestrian detection system had not become part of testing at the time it took place.

Safety assist: 100%

The car achieved a full score in this category because all the systems assessed by NCAP are standard fit across the XC90 range. The car’s systems managed to avoid collisions at all speeds and in all scenarios tested.

Fleet case study: IAM

The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) operates a fleet with a minimum five-star driver safety NCAP rating policy. Vehicles joining the choice  list (made up of eight different makes and models) must have achieved the rating. Lesley Upham, commercial director at IAM (and a former commercial director at Thatcham Research), feels the standard is  essential. “We do believe it’s best practice,” she says. “One of the things we’re looking to ensure with our internal staff is that every aspect of our their journey is covered. We’re very keen on driver training and journey planning, as you’d expect, but a big part of safety comes down to the vehicle.

“It’s making certain that they are in a vehicle that offers them the best opportunity for safety. If you think about the NCAP driver safety system, it’s not just about the driver, it looks at pedestrians. “Our staff also drive those vehicles when they have their families with them, so the child protection element is important to us.”

4 Responses

  1. Terri
    | Reply

    Interesting background from a vehicle fleet health & safety stand point and obviously an evolving science. It would be valuable if you could follow up with some current guidelines for evaluating vehicle types in a business fleet mix including recommendations? many thanks TT

  2. Crash Management
    | Reply

    Thanks for your interest in this critical road safety issue including request for more detail, the subject is well published so there is no shortage of material. For individual makes/model ratings we would suggest

    The ratings themselves are becoming more complex and include many variables. ANCAP uses a range of internationally recognised crash tests undertaken by independent specialist laboratories. The higher the rating the better of course. The common belief is that anyone involved in a serious collision in a 3 star rated car is twice as likely to be seriously injured or killed, compared to the same impact in a 5 star rated car.

    In each of the physical tests, dummies are used to scientifically measure the various forces on occupants in the crash. The data gathered is then assessed in conjunction with a physical assessment of the vehicle, and a score determined for each test. In addition, vehicles must be fitted with certain safety features and safety assist technologies. These requirements are then assessed alongside the physical crash test scores with an overall score translated into an ANCAP safety rating of between 1 to 5 stars.
    The higher the score and the greater the safety inclusions, the more stars.

    Frontal offset test
    The frontal offset test simulates hitting another car of the same mass travelling at the same speed. 40% of the car, on the driver’s side, makes contact with a crushable aluminium barrier at 64km/h. Dummies in the vehicle indicate the likely injuries resulting from the crash test.

    Side impact test
    The side impact test consists of running a 950kg trolley into the driver’s side of the vehicle at 50km/h. The trolley has a crushable aluminium face to simulate the front of another vehicle.

    Pole test
    In the pole test the car is propelled sideways at 29km/h into a rigid pole aligned with the driver’s head. The pole is relatively narrow, resulting in major penetration into the side of the car. Curtain airbags are particularly effective in reducing the chance of serious head injury in this type of crash.

    Pedestrian test
    The pedestrian tests are carried out to estimate head and leg injuries to pedestrians struck by a vehicle at 40km/h. These crashes represent about 15% of fatal crashes in Australia and New Zealand – as high as 30% in some urban areas.

    Whiplash test
    The whiplash test is conducted in two parts – a geometric measurement of the head restraint, and a dynamic test using the vehicle seat mounted to a test sled which simulates a rear-end crash equivalent to a stationary vehicle being hit at 32km/h.

    SAT assessment
    In addition to minimum performance requirements in physical crash tests, ANCAP also requires vehicles to be fitted with certain safety features & safety assist technologies (SAT). These include head-protecting airbags, electronic stability control (ESC), emergency brake assist (EBA) etc.

    In recent years, the advancements made in vehicle safety have been significant. Previously, vehicle safety focussed on passive safety features such as airbags and seat belts but with the introduction of advanced safety assist technologies, the focus has now shifted to active collision avoidance technologies.

    Manufacturers have developed a range of new SAT and these are now being included in a wide range of vehicles. New physical tests and SAT assessments have also been developed by New Car Assessment Programs (NCAPs) in other countries, providing consumers with a greater amount of information on the comparative level of safety provided by new vehicles as well as encouraging manufacturers to include such technologies and structural improvements.

    As a result, ANCAP’s European-based sister organisation, Euro NCAP has announced significant changes to its future test program.

    ANCAP’s forward plan takes some of these changes and advancements into account. However given the rapid pace at which vehicle safety is moving and the need for NCAPs to acknowledge these advancements, ANCAP has adjusted its forward plan.

    From 2015, ANCAP requirements will align more closely with Euro NCAP in order to provide consumers with the best technology and safest cars available.
    ANCAP provides Australian and New Zealand consumers with independent vehicle safety information through the publication of ANCAP safety ratings. ANCAP safety ratings take into account the level of occupant and pedestrian protection provided by new cars through the conduct of physical crash tests and the assessment of collision avoidance technologies.

    The more stars, the better the vehicle performed in ANCAP tests. To achieve the maximum 5 star ANCAP safety rating, a vehicle must achieve the highest standards in all tests and feature advanced safety assist technologies.

    Since 1992, ANCAP has published crash test results for a wide range of new passenger and light commercial vehicle makes, models and variants sold in Australia and New Zealand.

    ANCAP is supported by all Australian and New Zealand motoring clubs, the Australian Government, the New Zealand Government, Australian state and territory governments, the Victorian Transport Accident Commission, NRMA Insurance and the FIA Foundation.

    To search individual crash test results for more than 515 vehicles, learn more about safety features and technologies, and explore interactive features, visit

  3. Francis Shortfield
    | Reply

    There’s an interesting update about ANCAP safety ratings at The say ANCAP is becoming a bit meaningless because all new vehicles are so safe now that almost everything achieves a 5-star rating. Obviously new car technology has progressed a lot over the past 5 or 10 years so it’s probably time. They’ll also be looking more closely at rear passenger safety, pedestrians and bikes. Just when we thought we knew it all we could be in for another new learning curve. Interesting and a good read for you Crash Team.

  4. T Kane
    | Reply

    Another excellent article updating vehicle safety today. I thought it might be of value to Crash Management and their other clients. Enjoy:

    A message from outgoing CEO, James Goodwin
    Each year we go ‘beyond the stars’ to look at the facts and figures that sit behind the work we do at ANCAP SAFETY. The costs, the collaboration and the consumer engagement.

    The production of a simple star rating sounds relatively easy, but a lot goes on to make sure our star ratings reflect the safety performance of vehicles and acknowledge the significant advancements being made by vehicle manufacturers to ensure their vehicles meet 5 star standards. Most importantly, we do what we do to ensure consumers can use our ratings to empower their vehicle choices.

    37 vehicle models received ANCAP safety ratings in the past financial year, covering 205 variants. These new ratings cost more than $18 million to produce and represent 11 percent of new light vehicle sales.

    A record 96 percent of new vehicles sold in Australia and New Zealand held an ANCAP rating. Encouragingly, 92 percent were five star, 3 percent were four star, and less than 1 percent were three stars or less.

    We saw record investment from the Australian automotive industry to support ANCAP tests with $3.62 million in vehicles and test costs covered by vehicle brands.

    Informing and educating is key to a safer community – a consideration that is front-of-mind in current times. Consumer awareness increased with 75 percent of Australian new car buyers and 63 percent of New Zealand buyers are aware of ANCAP. It is great to see that awareness is highest amongst our most inexperienced drivers with 83 percent of 18-24 year olds aware of ANCAP.
    We produced our first national television commercial, airing with a reach of almost 16 million viewers, with social media engagement up across all platforms, and the highest number of hits to our website was when UBER Australia announced its policy on 5-star vehicles.

    ANCAP’s ability to influence market change and improve the safety of our vehicle fleet is a direct result of the continued support received from our member organisations and partners.

    As I depart ANCAP I want to thank the dedicated staff, members and stakeholders for their ongoing commitment to safer vehicles and the support and encouragement they have provided to me.


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