NCAP Crash Test Ratings explained: What does five stars really mean?
Five stars, four stars, even no stars — most new cars these days either brag about high NCAP crash test ratings, or try to avoid a PR disaster with a bad one. But these ratings aren’t as straightforward as you might think. But first, let’s talk about what NCAP is in the first place. NCAP stands for New Car Assessment Programme and there are various branches with the main one being Global NCAP (GNCAP) and then regional ones like ASEAN NCAP for southeast Asian countries, ANCAP for Australia, Euro NCAP for Europe and so on. For India, the relevant body is ASEAN NCAP, while GNCAP’s #SaferCarsForIndia program also tests cars sold in our markets.
Now, let’s talk about what a car typically goes through in an NCAP test. The crash tests themselves include a front impact test and a side impact test, there are also tests for the integrity of the seatbelts, the electronic stability control, tests for pedestrian safety and, if equipped, the autonomous emergency braking systems are also put to the test. Now within these tests, different parameters contribute to how good or bad a car performs overall.
For example, in the front impact test, each region of the crash dummy is scored out of four points. Additionally, critical areas like the head, neck and chest have a lower limit for performance, below which the car is deemed to have unacceptably high risk of injury. Aside from this, the airbags are judged to see if they are causing any internal head injuries or if the airbag is deploying incorrectly. There are also parameters for specifically determining child occupant safety within these tests.
Additionally, cars can be awarded bonus points for having equipment like four-channel ABS, seat belt reminders and so on. On the other hand, cars that do not meet the minimum requirements like having a driver side airbag as standard, get zero stars. This is why you may see some variants of a car bag a high star rating while the base variants without the safety equipment will get zero.
The points breakup for these results differ from one NCAP to the other, though only marginally. This is primarily due to the disparity in minimum safety requirements across countries. From 2021 onward, the ASEAN NCAP has introduced a new points table that has a total of 120 points divided as follows: 32 points for adult occupant safety, 51 for child occupant safety, 21 for safety assistance systems and 16 for motorcyclist safety. If you’re confused about the latter, that’s because this is a new addition and includes testing for features like the blindspot monitoring system which can help drivers avoid accidents with two-wheelers. These categories also carry different weights to them, with 40 per cent going toward adult occupant safety and 20 per cent each for the other three.
These points are then converted into percentages of the total scores and you can take a look below at how the stars are awarded for each category:
Five stars is not equal to five stars
And now we get to the crux of the matter. ‘Is a five star-rated hatchback safer than a three star-rated SUV?’ The simple answer is no. The ASEAN NCAP website states, “In fact, the occupants of the heavier car or the car with higher structure tend to fare better than the occupants in lighter and lower car.” Moreover, the cars are judged on the basis of their categories and the tests are modified for each category. An SUV would face heavier weights in the frontal impact tests, which also means that a three or four star-rated SUV may indeed be much safer than a five star-rated hatchback.
Another factor contributing to the ‘five stars is not equal to five stars’ statement is the fact that manufacturers tend to take advantage of the lack of safety norms in countries and may produce different quality cars for different regions, which is also why we see localised NCAPs. So, while an SUV made overseas may score a full five stars, its locally produced brethren may not.
India was set to get its own NCAP back in 2014, named the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP) which was then pushed to 2017 but since then, nothing concrete has come about. In theory, it would allow consumers to see which cars sold in India are simply getting-by by just meeting the minimum requirements and which manufacturers are going above and beyond the requirements to ensure safety of the passengers. A localised NCAP will also help spread more awareness among consumers, who can then start to choose cars based on their star ratings. Road safety should be a top concern not just for car buyers and manufacturers, but also for the government and a clear timeline for the BNVSAP would give a ray of hope to car buyers in the country.