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Sometimes safety takes a back seat to horsepower, vehicle design and luxury amenities but when you’re in a crash it’s really the only thing that matters.

So what if you’re sports car can hit 60 miles an hour in less than four seconds? Who cares if your flagships sedan has a Champagne cooler in the back seat? When you sideswipe an oak tree or get rear-ended by a drunk driver your life hangs in the balance.

It’s Pronounced Nit-Suh

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA for short, rates vehicle crashworthiness. To make things easy for people to understand they use a five-star scale where one is lowest and five is best. You’ll often see these scores printed on window stickers. This federal agency evaluates how cars and trucks perform in frontal crashes, side impacts and rollover accidents, though they’re not able to rate every single car and truck sold.

To encourage continuous safety advancements NHTSA has added additional tests and variables to its repertoire over the years. For instance they’ve implemented a side-impact pole test, they also use different-sized dummies and collect more data points from crashes.

We reached out to them asking about their testing methods and how they compare to the ones employed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an unaffiliated group that also performs safety evaluations. Additionally we asked which methodology they thought was better. In a statement we received via e-mail NHTSA said:

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is committed to improving safety on the nation’s roadways and helping motorists make informed decisions about new or used vehicles they are considering. The agency’s five-Star Safety Ratings program is designed to provide consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover safety of new vehicles beyond what is required by federal standards.”

NHTSA’s tests are designed to help drivers compare the crashworthiness of different vehicles on the market. They also encourage manufacturers to design and engineer safer cars and trucks. They’ve been smashing up vehicles in the name of science since the late 1970s but they’re not the only game in town.

Reaching Higher

The IIHS is a not-for-profit group that’s dedicated to helping prevent human and monetary losses associated with accidents. That’s a high-minded goal but they’re better known for their demanding crash tests and the smashed-up cars that result from them.

Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at IIHS said, “We’re funded entirely by automobile insurance companies with the mission of finding ways to reduce the deaths, injuries and property damage that results from motor-vehicle crashes.”

SEE ALSO: Why Rear-Drive Cars Struggle in Small-Overlap Test

“Safety is a priority when choosing a new vehicle,” said Rader, adding, “Crash-test ratings from government and from IIHS are important because they show differences among vehicles [and] go beyond the safety standards that manufacturers have to adhere to.”
For more about this story, What Are IIHS Ratings? please visit
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