The toughest-ever car crash tests have been announced by safety organisation Euro NCAP, with cars to be crashed into a moving barrier for the first time and assessed for how easy they are to evacuate after a crash.
The landmark new moving barrier test replaces the frontal offset barrier test Euro NCAP has been assessing cars with since its foundation 23 years ago. The new test not only rates how well protected those inside the car are, but how the car's front end structures deform and contribute to injuries of those the car crashes into. Euro NCAP will also make use of the world's most advanced car crash dummy yet, THOR.
Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research and Euro NCAP board member, said: 'These are the biggest changes to Euro NCAP's impact testing protocols in a decade. The THOR dummy makes the new test especially challenging for carmakers, as the dummy more closely represents a human.'
We don't believe that any owner should compromise on safety, so any car that receives three stars out of five or worse in Euro NCAP's crash tests is made a Which? Don't Buy.
Euro NCAP crash test cars into a range of different barriers. Aside from the new moving barrier test, the group has also increased the speed and force of the side impact barrier test, which hits near-side to the driver. This means even stronger driver protection is needed for cars to score well.
This latest update will also assess far-side impact protection. For the first time, Euro NCAP will analyse the potential interaction between driver and front seat passenger in the event of a crash. The protection afforded by new-to-market safety equipment, such as centre airbags, can also be verified.
It's not just the damage to the car that will be assessed, but also the amount of disfigurement of the new (Mobile-offset Progressive Deformable) barrier, which represents an oncoming car.
Avery said: 'Historically, SUVs and other big cars have offered very good protection to their occupants. However, the smaller vehicles they sometimes crash into can fare less well.
'The aim of the new 2020 Euro NCAP tests is for larger cars, whose bulk means they often fare better in crash tests, to share more of the burden in an impact with smaller cars.'
This means that if a large vehicle is too stiff and does too much damage to the simulated oncoming car, it will be penalised.
Many of the latest cars have autonomous emergency braking (AEB) technology, where the car automatically applies the brakes when it detects a crash is imminent. Part of the current assessments evaluate how well the car's AEB detects, reacts and therefore protects vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
These tests are being added to by assessing a car's AEB when turning at a crossing or when the vehicle is reversing.
The first test looks to prevent collisions with vulnerable road users and other vehicles at junctions, and is called the 'turn across path' test.
The second addresses reverse parking incidents. Avery explains: 'These are very common and expensive. While most result in nothing more than a dinked bumper, the consequences can be tragic should an unseen child or elderly person be passing by the rear of the vehicle.'
This year also sees Euro NCAP's first evaluations of how effective Driver Status Monitoring systems are, which aim to detect when a driver is tired and distracted.
Avery adds: 'We believe that driver monitoring is the next big thing in active safety technology. In the short term, it has a key role in detecting fatigue and distraction.
'However, these “guardian angel” systems will also be fundamental to the safe introduction of the first automated driving systems, by ensuring that the driver is ready to take back control of the vehicle when it's no longer in automated driving mode.'
A car doesn't just need to protect you during a crash, but ideally needs to remain safe for occupants after the crash as well, to maximise chances of survival.
Euro NCAP has partnered with international fire and rescue body International Technical Committee for the Prevention and Extinction of Fire (CTIF) for a new rating system for post-crash safety.
Through this partnership, Euro NCAP will inspect various aspects after a crash such as the accuracy and availability of rescue information, and how easy it is to extract occupants from the car. The group will also be endorsing the European Union's eCall rapid response system, which has been mandatory technology in all new cars sold in the EU since April 2018.
The eCall rapid response system automatically calls emergency services following a serious road accident, and sends the emergency services airbag information and satellite location coordinates. A manual emergency call button is also provided.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Euro NCAP testing has been paused for the past few months. It's expected to resume testing after the summer.
Euro NCAP updates and toughens its car safety test programme every two years. The upcoming 2020 test programme means consumers will need to take care comparing the latest Euro NCAP ratings with previous years. If a car is reassessed, it may get a lower Euro NCAP safety rating than its previous one.
Only the cars that offer superb performance in its crash protection, crash avoidance and post-crash safety tests will get the top five-star rating.
Safety is only one aspect of an exceptional car. Which? lab and road tests also take into account how great a vehicle is to drive, how practical it is, how each engine performs and much more. Find out all the results by heading over to our expert .