Auto Safety Ratings Explained

Auto Safety Ratings Explained | Pintas & Mullins Law Firm

For the majority of buyers, safety is the most important factor in deciding on a vehicle. There are two main safety reports, which evaluate vehicles differently. Below, our auto accident attorneys explain these two reports and how consumers can best utilize them.


The reports are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) star ratings, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) top picks. The NHTSA is part of the federal Department of Transportation, and uses a simple five-star rating system that is easy for consumers to read and understand.

The NHTSA’s ratings are available on, and are split into two categories: vehicles made before 2010 and those from 2011 and after. In 2011, the agency toughened the criteria and combined ratings from its different crash tests to create a single rating. This provided consumers with an overall view of vehicle safety.

The NHTSA conducts frontal crash, side crash, and rollover risk tests. It does not rate vehicles on their accident avoidance technology, however it does highlight models that have certain safety features like lane departure warnings and forward collision warnings. also features important updates such as recalls, potential safety complaints, and defect investigations. It has an entire section dedicated to parents with information ranging from proper car seat installation to teen driving tips.


IIHS’ tests measure: response to small and moderate frontal crashes; side impact crashes; roof strength in rollovers; seat response in rear-end collisions. The agency rates vehicles as “Good,” “Acceptable,” “Marginal,” or “Poor.” When the IIHS began testing in 1995, nearly all vehicles were rated Poor or Marginal. Today, the majority earn Good ratings.

According to IIHS, a vehicle with a Good rating in the frontal crash test is 46% less likely to die in a frontal crash, compared to a driver in a vehicle rated as Poor. A driver in a vehicle rated Acceptable or Marginal is 33% less likely to die.

The IIHS also evaluates the child seat attachment hardware, known as LATCH. These evaluations take into account the LATCH location, how confusing the hardware is, the clearance angle, attachment force, and how easy it is to find. This is meant to measure how easy it is to achieve a correct, tight installation of a child restraint.

Vehicles that receive Good ratings across all categories are selected as a Top Safety Pick. To qualify for the Top Safety Pick+, a vehicle must have Good ratings in all categories and earn an advanced or superior rating in front crash prevention. Usually, this means that the vehicle includes additional technology – for example, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis received a Top Safety Pick+ designation only when it is equipped front crash prevention technology, otherwise it is a Top Safety Pick.

Both institutions urge auto makers to fix safety flaw revealed by their testing. They know auto makers pay attention to the reports, since it so heavily influences consumer behavior, and they encourage manufacturers to make changes that will result in better scores.

Our team of auto accident attorneys urges consumers to visit these websites and research your current vehicles and any you are considering buying. If you or someone you love was seriously hurt or killed in a crash, contact our firm as soon as possible for a free case review. We accept clients nationwide, and we never charge any attorneys’ fees unless we win you a settlement or verdict.