How we test cars Euro NCAP tests explained
Euro NCAP tests
Euro NCAP uses a variety of tests that replicate real-world situations in order to assess a car's safety credentials.
Euro NCAP's frontal impact test takes place at 40mph, and the car hits a deformable barrier that is offset (ie: it overlaps with half of the bonnet). Readings taken from crash test dummies are used to assess the level of protection given to adult front seat occupants.
This test is intended to represent the most frequent type of road crash, and the one that most often results in serious or fatal injury. It simulates one car having a frontal impact with another car of the same size and weight. As most frontal crashes involve only part of the car’s front, the test is offset to replicate a half width impact between the cars.
As well as the car's structural safety, this test looks at the effectiveness of airbags, seat belts and knee protection.
Side impact is considered the second most important test after the front-on test. Euro NCAP simulates this type of crash by having a 'mobile deformable barrier' hit the driver’s door at 31mph. The injury protection is assessed by a side impact test dummy in the driver’s seat.
An important indicator of good performance in this test is how well-controlled the intrusion into the side is. This test has encouraged more carmakers to fit side airbags to protect occupants.
The pole test
In Europe, around a quarter of all serious and fatal injuries are side impact collisions. Many of these happen when one car runs into a fixed object such as a tree.
In the test, the car tested is propelled sideways at 18mph into a rigid pole. The pole is relatively narrow, so there is major penetration into the side of the car.
In an impact without the head protecting airbag, a driver's head could hit the pole with enough force to cause a fatal head injury. Side impact head or curtain airbags help protect the head and upper body by providing a padding effect and by preventing the head from passing through the window opening.
Before 2009, Euro NCAP allowed car makers to perform a pole test to demonstrate the effectiveness of the head protection system if one was fitted. The assessment focussed on the head only and the result was used to augment the side impact score. From 2009, the pole test has been mandatory and now includes assessments on other parts of the body that might be affected, such as chest and abdomen.
In the frontal and side impact barrier tests, dummies representing 1½ and 3 year old children are placed in the rear of the car in the type of child restraint recommended by the carmaker. The overall child protection score depends on the child seat dynamic performance in front and side impact tests and also on the fitting instructions for the child seats, airbag warning labels, and the car’s ability to accommodate the child restraints safely.
Euro NCAP released a separate star rating for child protection valid from November 2003 to January 2009. As of 2009, the child score has become an integral part of the overall rating scheme, but the technical assessment has remained the same.
This test has spurred the widespread inclusion of Isofix child seat mounts in new cars.
A series of tests are carried out to replicate accidents involving child and adult pedestrians. Impacts occur at 25mph, but due to the difficulty in making a specific body part hit a certain section of the car, individual leg and head components are used in tests.
Protection can be improved by pedestrian friendly bumpers, which deform when they hit a pedestrian’s leg. Injuries are also lessened if the leg is hit low down, away from the knee, and if the forces are spread out. Head protection generally consists of keeping stiff structures away from the underside of the bonnet, while the bonnet top area needs to be able to deform.
Euro NCAP released a separate star rating for pedestrian protection valid from 1997 to 2009. As of 2009, the pedestrian score became part of the overall rating, however the technical assessment has remained the same.
On average, more than 1,200 people suffer whiplash injuries in UK motoring accidents each day.
Most of these are low-speed, rear-end crashes, and the injuries are caused by sudden neck distortion. Between 60 and 80% of car-crash injury claims are for whiplash.
So the whiplash test introduced by Euro NCAP in 2009 is welcome, as it helps car buyers to compare the ‘anti-whiplash’ properties of different car seats. It’s also an overdue impetus for carmakers to improve car seat design.
To gear up for the new test, Euro NCAP rated its first batch of car seats, with some surprises.
Of 23 car seats tested, 18 were less than satisfactory, with only five – in the Alfa Romeo MiTo, Audi A4, Vauxhall Insignia, Volvo XC60 and new VW Golf – rated as good.
The best seat, in the XC60, uses Volvo’s whiplash protection system (‘Whips’) – a design Volvo has employed for more than 10 years. So there really is no excuse for other carmakers not to protect occupants in the same way.
The poorest whiplash ratings went to some household names, such as the new Ford Kuga 4x4, Citroen C5 and Berlingo, and Hyundai i10.
Electronic stability control
Electronic stability control (ESC) can turn potentially serious accidents into near misses. To get five stars, new cars will need to be fitted with ESC as standard across the range.
Independent studies show that cars with ESC fitted have significantly fewer crashes, especially single-vehicle accidents (such as hitting a tree).
Yet there are huge differences in the fitment-rate of ESC across the European Union.
Several makers include it only on some versions of a car, while others offer ESC as standard in one country, but then as an option, or not at all, in another.
The good news is that it won’t be possible for a car to score five stars under Euro NCAP’s new rules unless ESC is fitted as standard on 85% of the models sold in a range, in all European markets.