Well, apparently not that many people look beyond those "stars" and crash ratings, and not that many know how the crash testing actually takes place. Last time we informed you about the NHTSA and IIHS crash testing procedures, which take place in the US. Now it's time to review the NCAP crash-testing procedures, mainly through its European branch.
Just like its overseas counterparts, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) is a non-profit organization. It was founded in 1997 by the Transport Research Laboratory for the British Department for Transport, but it is now backed by the European Commission and the governments of seven European countries. Another similarity to its counterparts from the US consists in the variety of crash tests performed on the cars. There is a frontal impact, two side impacts - one of which is with a pole - and a pedestrian impact test. Let's take a look at them one by one:
Frontal ImpactBased on a test initially developed by the European Enhanced Vehicle-safety Committee, the frontal impact test takes place at a 64 km/h (40mph) speed, and the car strikes an offset deformable barrier.
The subsequent barrier is technically a still block fitted with a deformable aluminum-honeycomb frontal area. The impact tries to replicate the most frequent type of road accident: when two cars collide with each other head-on in an offset manner.
Technically, only 40 percent of the car's frontal area impacts the deformable barrier, simulating a car-to-car collision with each vehicle traveling at around 55 km/h. Using a 95-percentile male dummy as a driver and one as a front passenger, the tested vehicle's ability to pass this conundrum without passenger compartment intrusion is crucial. Forces acting on the two passengers are also measured.
Starting with 2015, Euro NCAP has also introduced another frontal impact test, in which the car is hurled at 50 km/h (31 mph) against a rigid barrier with full overlap. The driver's seats and the rear passenger side seats are occupied by a “small female frontal impact dummy.” Despite being carried at a lower speed, the “Full Width rigid Barrier” test is a bit more severe that the offset one and places higher demands on the vehicle's seat belts both front and rear. Only the best restraint systems get high points in this test.
Car to Car Side ImpactOf course, apart from the frontal impact, the second most important test to be carried out by Euro NCAP is the car to car side impact. This impact is simulated with the help of a mobile deformable barrier (MDB) which hits the driver's door at 50 km/h (31 mph). The MDB's crumple zone is 1500 mm (59 inches) wide, and 500 mm (19.7 inches) long and its center impacts the tested car at the so-called “R-Point,” which is the hip point for a 95 percentile male dummy.
Euro NCAP doesn't specify the actual weight of the MDB, but it's safe to assume it is in the tested car's ball park, if not even identical, since the results are only comparable to those obtained by cars from the same class. The injury protection of the dummy in the driver's seat is assessed by looking at the levels and extent of intrusion of the MDB in the impacted vehicle and how controlled is the side intrusion.
Pole Side ImpactIn what is probably the second most violent type of impact tested by Euro NCAP, the Pole Side Impact used to only test the potential injuries to the head of the driver.
Before 2009, its results were used only as an addition to the side impact score, but nowadays the pole test is mandatory and it includes testing other potential injuries to critical body parts as well, such as the chest or the abdomen.
The procedure consists of the tested car being projected sideways at a speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) into a rigid and relatively narrow pole. The aftermath of this impact is almost disastrous to the vehicle's structural integrity, and in a car not equipped with head protecting airbags, the driver is very likely to actually experience a fatal or near fatal injury.
Pedestrian ImpactSince not all car crashes that happen everyday are between vehicles, we should get used to the idea that we might either hit a pedestrian with our car or get hit by a car while being a pedestrian. This part of the whole car safety shenanigans has become a crucial segment of crash testing procedures in general, and EuroNCAP doesn't make an exception.
The EuroNCAP pedestrian safety test consists of a number of simulations for every individual component of a dummy in case of being hit by the tested automobile at 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph). There are actually three individual crash tests using portions of a dummy called Leg form, Upper Leg form and Head form impactor.
The Leg form impactor is used to asses the amount of protection the car's front bumper is offering to the lower leg part of the pedestrian being hit, while the Upper Leg form is struck by the vehicle's leading edge of the engine hood. Head forms are of course used to asses the impact of the hood's top area hitting the pedestrian.
What else is there?On top of the Frontal, Car to Car Side, Pole Side and the Pedestrian impact, the EuroNCAP crash testing ratings also take into account child protection by using ISOFIX child-seats and whiplash protection in the case of an impact coming from the rear. The final ratings get extra points when the tested car benefits from a standard electronic stability control system, seat belt reminders and/or any type of speed limitation devices.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Testing
Back in 2011, Euro NCAP also started testing Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems on cars, with active safety becoming a more important part in a vehicle's safety assessment.
When testing ESC systems, Euro NCAP evaluated steering and yaw behavior simultaneously, and the tests were based on double lane change maneuvers. Called “sine-with-dwell” tests, they were carried at 80 km/h (50 mph), and the steering wheel was suddenly rotated up to 270 degrees to simulate an evasive maneuver.
Since all cars sold in Europe must be fitted as standard with an ESC system starting with the end of 2014, Euro NCAP no longer includes this test in new car assessments, and as of 2016, it no longer rewards cars that have the system.
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) Interurban
Since more carmakers are introducing Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems on their cars, Euro NCAP has also included a test of this function in three different driving scenarios.
The first one tests the cars driving toward a stationary vehicle at speeds between 30 km/h (19 mph) and 80 km/h (50 mph). In the second one, the car is closing in on a slower vehicle that's driving in front at similar speed, while in the third, it's following a vehicle that suddenly starts braking from 50 km/h (31 km/h).
Only the systems that are able to avoid a collision or can significantly reduce the severity of an impeding crash are awarded the highest scores.
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) city
Introduced in 2014, the AEB City test assesses how cars fitted with the system behave when they're driven toward the back of a “dummy” vehicle at speeds ranging between 10 km/h (6 mph) and 50 km/h (31 mph).
The most points are only awarded when the collision is completely avoided, but cars also get points if the impact has been reduced.
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) Pedestrian
The third test that takes into account AEB systems was introduced in 2016. Euro NCAP has put together three different tests for pedestrians, all of which would result in a fatal impact between the car and a pedestrian if the AEB system did not intervene.
In the first two, an adult dummy “runs” from each side of the driver in front of the car, while in the third a child dummy emerges between parked vehicles from the passenger's side. Since not all AEB systems can completely avoid a collision in all situations, Euro NCAP only awards points for cars that have a pedestrian-friendly front design.
Advanced Active Safety Systems
Euro NCAP also rewards cars that are fitted with Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Support systems, Speed Alert Systems, Emergency Braking, Attention Assist, Automatic Emergency Call and Pre-Crash mitigation systems.
Now, instead of a conclusion, you just need to understand that no crash test out there can represent indisputable proof of a car's safety, since all tests are done in a controlled environment and all follow certain given rules. In other words, you shouldn't base your opinion of a car's safety just by checking its crash test ratings, no matter how good they appear to be, because in real life no accident is exactly the same as the other. Crash test ratings sure do help a lot, though.