Crash Course On Crash Testing

By: The Auto Guy Email
By: The Auto Guy Email

You hear a lot about crash testing of new vehicles, but it can be a little confusing. One time you hear that testing showed a vehicle had a five-star crash rating, but another time you hear something different. That’s because there are two different agencies that do crash testing and there are a lot of different types of tests.

Crash testing started many years ago and it was fairly primitive. But at least some automakers knew that crash safety was a real concern for motorists.

In the 70s, the Department of Transportation created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA for short. Among other things, NHTSA is in charge of vehicle safety standards and the enforcement of those standards.

NHTSA has been performing crash testing since the late 70s, but in those early years it was only frontal crash tests. Side impact testing was added in the late 90s and rollover testing began with 2001 vehicles.

In 2011, more variations of crash testing were added, including side pole impacts. Different sized crash test dummies were also added, providing a lot more information for researchers to use.

NHTSA’s five-star ratings will list out each individual test that was done, along with an overall score for crash worthiness. NHTSA only tests the more common vehicles on the road and the results of their tests will be listed on a new vehicle’s window sticker.

There is another organization that does crash testing and that’s what sometimes gets a little confusing with motorists. It is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or IIHS for short. This organization is funded by insurance companies and they do their own crash testing of new vehicles.

The IIHS does different types of crash testing with “offset” crash testing being their specialty. The offset crash testing tries to duplicate what happens when a vehicle impacts another object on the front corner rather than squarely across the entire front end. The reason offset crashes are so much worse is because most of the crash energy misses the bumper and front structure of the vehicle, which are designed to absorb the energy in a collision. Offset crashes usually severely impact the driver’s compartment area, which can lead to some very serious injuries to the driver.

Both organizations also include safety features such as collision avoidance systems into its overall rating for a vehicle because a vehicle is obviously safer if it you can avoid collisions in the first place.

The main thing to remember is that neither testing agency is better than the other, they just do things differently. The good thing for you is that all of that information is available to help you make an informed decision when you buy you next vehicle.

Check out their website for tons of great information. NHTSA’s website is and the IIHS website is

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