What Does the NHTSA's Safety Ratings Mean?

A widely quoted safety rating for new vehicles is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rating. The NHTSA gives each vehicle model a rating on a five-star scale, but how do they arrive at that score?

The NHTSA scores four different crash tests and averages them for an overall star rating ranging from one to five. This makes it possible to see the strengths and weaknesses of each vehicle. The NHTSA uses a battery of four crash tests: A frontal crash, two different side-impact tests, and a rollover safety test.

The frontal crash hits the vehicle at 35 mph, and the side-impact tests simulate being broadsided by a large vehicle or a pole at 39 mph and 20 mph, respectively. Finally, the rollover test calculates the vehicle's likelihood to roll given its center of gravity and width.

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