More than 78,000 lives (estimated number of car occupant deaths prevented between 1998 and 2015, based on ETSC PIN Report 2016) have been saved since Euro NCAP’s tough crash safety tests were launched 20 years ago in February 1997.
In February 2017, Euro NCAP revealed it has published over 630 safety ratings, crash-tested some 1800 cars and collectively spent over 160 million euros (estimated total accumulated costs related to vehicle testing, not including cost for cars, spare parts and other consumables) to make cars safer.
The first tests exposed safety failings in top-selling family cars, forcing a fundamental rethink in the way vehicles were designed to prevent accidents and save lives. Twenty years on, nine out of 10 cars sold in the European market hold a Euro NCAP rating and the motor industry actively supports the development of new requirements for the top safety ratings.
Today (2 February 2017), the results of Euro NCAP’s “20th anniversary” crash tests (see the pictures) of two family cars built 20 years apart – a late-90s Rover 100 and a current Honda Jazz – underline the huge advances in vehicle safety since 1997. Safety technologies that were non-existent or optional at most, such as driver and passenger airbags, side protection airbags, belt reminders and electronic stability control, are now standard on all cars sold in Europe.
Backed by the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile), ICRT (formerly named International Testing), and the UK and Swedish Governments, the first Euro NCAP crash test results were revealed on 4 February 1997. Until then, car makers only had to meet basic legislative crash test requirements for new cars, the results of which were not published. It was impossible for consumers to compare the safety of one car with another.
Euro NCAP’s programme was the first time that realistic, like-for-like tests had been conducted in Europe by independent experts, and the results sparked outrage from consumer groups, members of the public and the media.
In the first round of tests, of seven popular supermini-sized cars, the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo each achieved three stars out of the then-maximum of four, based on protection levels offered to adult occupants.
The top-selling Rover 100 achieved only one star while the Fiat Punto, Nissan Micra/March, Opel/Vauxhall Corsa and Renault Clio achieved only two stars. When pedestrian protection was assessed, not one vehicle scored more than two points, suggesting that manufacturers were not designing cars with vulnerable road users in mind.
Leading car companies attacked the tests, claiming they were so severe that it was “impossible” for a car to achieve four stars. Five months later, however, Volvo’s S40 became the first four-star car for occupant protection.
Euro NCAP tests have become ever more demanding and cars can now achieve a maximum of five stars, awarded not just for how they protect occupants and pedestrians in a collision, but on the car’s ability to avoid a crash in the first place. The tests represent real-life accident scenarios that could result in death or injury.
Top achievers must demonstrate that their cars are fitted as standard with technology that avoids or mitigates such crashes and, where a crash is not avoidable, adequate protection is offered to car occupants and other road users.
Read our editor’s eyewitness account of a Toyota crash test.