If you’re researching new cars, safety ratings and crash tests are likely to factor into your decision making. When you start out your search, there are two well-known sources of crash test ratings: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
. The both provide valuable information but their testing and scoring methods are different.
NHTSA 5-Star Rating System (New Car Assessment Program)
NHTSA dates back to 1966. That’s the year President Lyndon Johnson signed two bills that led to the creation of two government auto safety regulatory agencies. Three years later, they merged to form the NHTSA.
The purpose of the agency then remains the same to this day: to “save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity.” So minimizing deaths and injuries is its sole motivation.
The agency uses a 5-Star Safety Rating system. The more stars the better. Currently, it scores models over three safety areas: front impact, side impact, and rollover propensity. Under each category are a series of specific test ratings that show how the model does in a particular area.
You’ll find NHTSA rating safety stickers on new vehicles.
IIHS Top Safety Pick +
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was founded in 1959 by three major insurance associations representing 80 percent of the U.S. auto insurance market. So right off the top, the main difference from the NHTSA in that it’s not a government agency. It’s concerned with safety, but also reducing insurance claim costs.
It uses a more complex form of organizing test results and rankings of vehicles. Basically, it rates crashworthiness on four levels; good, fair, marginal or poor. High performers are awarded a Top Safety Pick or a Top Safety Pick + rating.