Changes to Euro NCAP crash tests may harm ratings of large SUVs

crash tests
Changes include smashing into a moving object to make crash tests more realistic (Picture: Euro NCAP)

Testing how cars behave in serious crashes has undergone the biggest shake-up for a decade. The Euro NCAP safety ratings have been overhauled to make them more relevant to the kinds of cars that are now popular.

The independent assessments show in an easy to understand way how cars respond in crashes. They are important in helping car buyers to compare the safety of different vehicles. Read on to see why the new changes could affect you.

What are the main changes?

To simulate a head-on crash more effectively Euro NCAP has altered how it does crash tests. It now crashes cars front-on at 31mph into an obstacle also moving at 31mph towards it. This makes damage to the crashed car closer to real-life head-on impacts. Crucially, it also allows the experts to assess how the other car might stand up.

The world’s most advanced THOR mid-size male crash-test dummy, costing £600,000 each, will help to gather more accurate data. Experts rig THOR with sensors to measure the injuries humans might suffer in a crash. THOR costs approximately twice as much as existing crash test dummies.

The new crash tests increase the force of side impacts on vehicle occupants. And for the first time, the effect on the driver of crashes from the side, and if or how much the driver collides with a front-seat passenger, will be measured.

Euro NCAP already tests Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems. It will do this more rigorously. Driver monitoring systems, designed to detect driver fatigue and distraction, are assessed too.

crash tests
Included are new side impact ratings (Picture: Euro NCAP)

Why have the changes been made?

The aim of Euro NCAP is always to make the roads safer. It wants manufacturers of larger SUVs to consider how their vehicles might react in crashes with smaller cars. Larger SUVs could have their safety rating downgraded if they inflict disproportionately severe damage on any smaller vehicle they might crash into.

The move comes after concerns that big SUVs such as Range Rovers and Audi Q7s may be brilliant at protecting their own occupants at the expense of smaller vehicles they could crash into. Forcing their manufacturers to make them more forgiving to crash into will ‘level the playing field’, according to crash test experts.

See how your car scored

Euro NCAP has been crash testing new cars for the past 23 years. As a result, it has a huge database of cars. This enables buyers to compare different models and see the strengths and weaknesses of various motors in a crash.

The changes to the crash tests will only have an impact on cars being tested from now on. But you can still see how older cars compared with their competitors of the time.

Why are safety ratings important?

When you are buying a new car it’s easy to be seduced by a sporty shape, attractive alloy wheels, a nifty 0-60mph time and economy that could save you money on a monthly basis. Of course all these are important. But so is how the car behaves in a crash. After all, that could have an impact on the lives of you and your loved ones.

What is Euro NCAP?

Its full name is the European New Car Assessment Programme. It is an independent body that buys brand-new cars anonymously and crashes them in controlled lab conditions. This enables it to assess how cars perform in accidents. And by using crash-test dummies, assessors can see exactly how and where humans are injured in different sorts of impacts. Euro NCAP rates each car using a star system, five is the best. Safety experts say it has almost singlehandedly helped to improve the safety of cars since the late 1990s.

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