Every new car has to meet strict safety standards – but what is a Euro NCAP score really all about?
It might sound like a long-lost 90s boyband, but Euro NCAP ratings are a vital piece of information that should be considered when you’re looking for your new car. While car safety has come on leaps and bounds in the past century with factory fitted airbags, three-point seat belts and crumple zones designed to turn your car into an accordion in the event of an accident, the true measure of how safe your car is can be judged by its NCAP rating.
Introduced in 1997, the rating is decided by a rigorous set of tests conducted by the independent body NCAP, with zero stars being the worst and five stars being the best. Up until 2009 the test was divided in two with one rating being based on driver and passenger safety, the other being pedestrian safety. Nowadays cars get one overall score which is a combination of everything.
How is a Euro NCAP rating decided?
While you might think the judges on reality TV shows lounging in their wing-back chairs with a big red buzzer offer harsh critique, the judges at Euro NCAP make them look like cuddly toys. The list of checks is vast, though there are four main standout categories by which the decision is reached.
Adult occupant protection
This test subjects a poor unsuspecting crash-test dummy to front, side and pole impact tests, where the car is crashed into a solid structure. There is also a rear impact and ‘whiplash test.
Child occupant protection
One of the most vital checks is the child-safety test, which measures the safety of young passengers using both a dummy that simulates an 18-month-old baby and one that stands in for a three-year-old.
Another factor that makes up the Euro NCAP score is how well a car protects any pedestrian it’s unfortunate enough to hit. The entire front of the car is subjected to a series of inspections to see how the bonnet and front bumper can limit the amount of injuries caused.
Safety assist systems
A product of the modern age, this test is focused on the technology found in cars. Whether it’s seat belt reminders, electronic stability control or more advanced gadgets, this test decides how effective they are at keeping you safe.
How important is the Euro NCAP rating?
While you may think that the NCAP rating is the be-all and end-all for choosing your next car, it’s worth remembering that car makers adhere to a strict set of principles when designing their new vehicles. So although you may see a car with a three-star rating and another with a five, it doesn’t mean the former is ‘unsafe,’ just that it's less safe than its five-star counterpart.
It's also worth noting that each year Euro NCAP reviews its processes and introduces stricter measures. This means that a five-star car from 2017 won’t be as safe as a car awarded full marks in 2021. This is especially true as the industry moves towards autonomous and semi-autonomous driving, with features like adaptive cruise control and lane departure assist coming under increased scrutiny. This means it's harder for a new car to get five stars if it isn't dripping in driver assistance technology (which you may just want to turn off anyway).
Read our guide to some of the safest nearly new family cars you can buy.