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Information on Buying A Safer Car From SaferCar.gov

Safety First – Visit safercar.gov

In response to increasing public concern about automobile safety, many manufacturers are designing vehicles that incorporate crash protection and safety features beyond the minimum Federal standards. Key questions to ask when looking to buy a safer car are:

What features does this vehicle have that will help you avoid a crash?
How well does this vehicle protect you during a crash?
What is the likelihood of this vehicle rolling over?
What other types of safety features does this vehicle have?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the agency of the Department of Transportation that conducts crash tests of new vehicles to determine the level of protection for drivers and passengers during frontal and side-impact crashes. NHTSA also conducts rollover tests to determine the likelihood of a vehicle rolling over if involved in a single-vehicle crash. The results of these tests, along with information about safety features for model year 2006 vehicles, are shown in the charts in this brochure. In addition, the latest crash test and rollover ratings can always be found at www.safercar.gov.


Each year, NHTSA crash tests new cars, light trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and vans, including those that are especially popular with consumers, are redesigned, or have improved safety equipment. These vehicles are then rated on how well they protect drivers and passengers during frontal and side-impact collisions using a five-star vehicle rating system. Five stars indicate the highest safety rating and one star the lowest. Although it is impossible to determine how well a vehicle protects drivers and passengers in all types of crashes, star ratings are a useful
basis when comparing vehicle safety. In reviewing the front and side crash test ratings, keep in mind that of the nearly 2 million injury-causing crashes each year, the majority are either frontal or side crashes.

Frontal Crash Testing

Vehicles with crash test dummies buckled in the driver and front passenger seats are crashed into a fixed barrier at 35 mph. This crash test is equivalent to a head-on collision between two identical vehicles each moving at 35 mph. Since the test reflects a crash between two identical vehicles, you can only compare vehicles from the same weight class when looking at frontal crash test ratings.

Instruments measure the force of impact to each dummy’s head, chest, and legs. The resulting information indicates a belted person’s chances of incurring a serious injury in the event of a crash. A serious injury is one that may be life-threatening and that requires immediate hospitalization.

= 10 percent or less chance of serious injury
= 11 percent to 20 percent chance of serious injury
= 21 percent to 35 percent chance of serious injury
= 36 percent to 45 percent chance of serious injury
= 46 percent or greater chance of serious injury

Side-Impact Crash Testing

Side-impact crash testing represents an intersection-type collision with a 3,015-pound barrier moving at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle, with crash test dummies buckled in the driver and rear passenger seats. The moving barrier is covered with crushable material to replicate the front of a vehicle.

Side-impact crash star ratings indicate the chance of a life-threatening chest injury for the driver, front-seat passenger, and rear-seat passenger. Head injury is currently not included in the side-impact crash star rating. As with the frontal crash test ratings, a serious injury is one that may be life-threatening and that requires immediate hospitalization. Given that the same size barrier crashes into all of the tested vehicles, it is possible to compare vehicles from different weight classes when looking at side-crash test ratings.

= 5 percent or less chance of serious injury
= 6 percent to 10 percent chance of serious injury
= 11 percent to 20 percent chance of serious injury
= 21 percent to 25 percent chance of serious injury
= 26 percent or greater chance of serious injury


Rollover resistance ratings measure the chance that your vehicle will roll over if you are involved in a single-vehicle crash. A single-vehicle crash is one that does not involve another vehicle. Vehicles with a higher number of stars are less likely to roll over if involved in a single-vehicle crash. Keep in mind these ratings do not directly predict the likelihood of a single-vehicle crash.

Driver behavior, speeding, distraction, and inattentiveness play significant roles in rollover crashes. Almost all vehicles involved in a rollover somehow lost control, ran off the road, and struck an object such as a ditch, curb, guardrail, or soft soil, causing the wheels to “trip” on the object and the vehicle to roll over. Therefore, one of the best ways to avoid a rollover is by staying on the road. Vehicles equipped with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) can help drivers stay on the road in emergency situations.

The rollover resistance rating is based on: (1) an at-rest laboratory measurement known as the Static Stability Factor (SSF) which determines how “top heavy” a vehicle is, and (2) the results of a driving maneuver that tests whether a vehicle tips up. In short, the rollover rating brings together a measure of how “top-heavy” a vehicle is with how well it performs in a severe turning maneuver on a test track. The lowest-rated vehicles (one star) are at least four times more likely to roll over than the highest-rated vehicles (five stars).

NHTSA’s rollover resistance ratings reflect the real-world rollover characteristics of vehicles involved in more than 86,000 single-vehicle crashes. As with side-impact crash test ratings, you can compare vehicles from different weight classes when looking at rollover ratings.

Rollover crashes have a higher fatality rate than all other kinds of crashes. More than 10,000 people die each year in rollover crashes. Keep in mind that even the highest-rated vehicle can roll over. One of the reasons rollovers are so deadly is that unrestrained occupants are often ejected or partially ejected from the vehicle. By wearing your safety belt you can reduce your chance of being killed in a rollover by about 75 percent.


The safety features on the following pages are considered some of the most important features a consumer should look for when considering the purchase of a new or used vehicle. A more comprehensive list of a vehicle’s available features can be found by conducting a search on the Five-Star Crash Test and Rollover Rating section of www.safercar.gov, then clicking on the name of the vehicle. Be aware that some manufacturers may use other design features that perform the same function as those described here. Also be aware that manufacturers may use different trade names to describe a particular safety feature.

Safety Belts

Safety belts are among the most important safety features in your vehicle. In the event of a crash, safety belts are designed to keep you inside the vehicle and reduce the risk of you hitting the steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield. We recommend that new buyers sit in a vehicle, buckle up their safety belts, and check the fit. Check the Available Features chart for each vehicle at www.safercar.gov for the availability of additional safety belt features such as adjustable upper belts, safety belt pretensioners, energy management features, intergrated safety belt systems, and safety belt extenders. This web site only includes information about Innovative Belt Reminder Systems.

Innovative Belt Reminder Systems
The purpose of a safety belt reminder is to remind vehicle occupants to wear their safety belts. All vehicles are required to have a 4- to 8-second reminder for the driver. This reminder appears as a dashboard warning light (often designed as a person in a safety belt) that also makes a buzzing or bell-like sound.

Some manufacturers have voluntarily installed innovative systems that go beyond the Federal standard and provide additional warnings when occupants are not using safety belts. These systems have visual and/or audio warnings to remind drivers to buckle up; a system to warn passengers is not yet available. In addition, some of these systems also sense how fast the vehicle is traveling, and increases the frequency of the warning. If you do not see your vehicle listed in the charts in this brochure or the field is blank, talk with the dealer or review the owner’s manual to find out if the vehicle has one of these innovative systems.

Anti-lock Brake Systems (ABS)

The antilock brake system (ABS) helps prevent a vehicle’s wheels from locking during “panic” braking, which allows the driver to maintain greater steering control as the vehicle is quickly slowed—a key factor in avoiding a collision. However, ABS does not guarantee you will avoid a crash. In fact, you still may lose control when driving at excessive speed or during extreme steering maneuvers.

All passenger cars equipped with ABS have four-wheel ABS. SUVs, trucks, and vans equipped with ABS may have either four-wheel or two-wheel ABS. Four-wheel ABS monitors and controls all the wheels of the vehicle, whereas two-wheel ABS only monitors and controls the rear wheels. In vehicles with two-wheel ABS, the front wheels can still lock during hard or panic braking and this lockup can result in the loss of steering control. Only vehicles with four-wheel ABS are indicated in the web site.

Some four-wheel ABS systems include Brake Assist, which is only available with ABS systems. During emergency braking, this feature provides more brake power to help the driver achieve full brake-pedal force. Under certain conditions, Brake Assist can potentially reduce overall stopping distance by activating the braking system more quickly. In the safety features charts, a “±” indicates ABS systems with Brake Assist.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

Electronic Stability Control (ESC), offered under various trade names, is designed to assist drivers in maintaining control of their vehicles during extreme steering maneuvers. It is designed to reduce the occurrence of crashes in which vehicles run off the road or otherwise go out of control. ESC senses when a vehicle is starting to spin out (oversteer) or plow out (understeer). When this occurs, it turns the vehicle to the appropriate heading by auto­matically applying the brake to one or more of the wheels. However, ESC cannot keep a vehicle on the road if the vehicle’s speed is simply too great for conditions.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

The Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) uses a dashboard warning light to alert the driver when one or more of a vehicle’s tires is significantly underinflated – a leading cause of tire failure. A tire is considered significantly underinflated when its pressure is 25 percent below the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended tire inflation pressure. Beginning with the 2006 model year, manufacturers will begin phasing TPMS into their new vehicles. By September 1, 2007, all new vehicles will have TPMS.

Daytime Running Lights (DRL)

This feature turns on the headlights when a vehicle is being driven. Daytime running lights increase the ability of oncoming drivers to see your vehicle. This feature may not include tail lights or other exterior lights, so remember to turn on your headlights at dusk.


Frontal Air Bags

Depending on the severity of the crash, frontal air bags inflate to prevent occupants from hitting the steering wheel, dashboard, and windshield. Frontal air bags for both drivers and passengers have been standard equipment in all vehicles since 1998.

Frontal air bags do not eliminate the need for safety belts and typically do not offer protection in rollovers, side-impact, or rear-end crashes. Air bag effectiveness depends upon the proper use of safety belts, which help keep you in place should a collision occur. Occupants who are unbelted or out-of-position can end up being seriously injured or killed if they are too close to the air bag when it deploys.

Advanced (Frontal) Air Bag Systems
Beginning with 2004 vehicles, advanced air bag systems are required in a portion of each manufacturer’s production. By September 1, 2006, all new vehicles will have advanced (frontal) air bag systems. The charts included in this web site indicate which vehicles are certified to the new Federal standard for advanced air bags.

Advanced air bag systems are a next-generation frontal air bag system designed to further reduce the likelihood of serious injury or death to occupants, whether adults or children, who may be too close to the air bag when it deploys. Most advanced air bag systems use sensors that automatically detect the severity of the crash, the occupant’s size, safety belt use, and/or seating position, and deploy the appropriate level of power to the driver’s and passenger’s frontal air bags.

You will need to talk with the dealer or review the owner’s manual to learn more about the specific features and sensor technologies in use as part of the advanced air bag system.

Reduce the risk of injury from any frontal air bag by observing the following:

Buckle your safety belt.

Keep about 10 inches or more between your chest and the air bag cover.

Never place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an air bag, even a reduced-power or advanced air bag, unless the air bag on-off switch is in the OFF position.

Place children age 12 and under in the back seat, and make sure they are properly restrained, either in a safety belt or a child safety seat that is appropriate for their size, weight, and age.
Warning!!! Even with advanced air bags, children can be killed or seriously injured by air bags. Always put children age 12 and under in the rear seat.

On-Off Switches

An on-off switch can deactivate the driver’s or passenger’s air bag. Almost all vehicles without rear seats or with small rear seats, such as pickups and sports cars, now include a passenger-side on-off switch as standard equipment. Check the Available Features chart for an individual vehicle at www.safercar.gov for the availability of on-off switches.If you own a vehicle without an on-off switch and have a demonstrated need to have one installed by a dealer or repair facility, you may do so if you meet one of the following conditions:

You must transport a child age 12 or under, including an infant riding in rear-facing infant seat, in the front passenger seat.
You have a medical condition where the air bag poses a special risk that outweighs the risk of hitting your head, neck, or chest in a crash if the air bag is turned off.
You cannot change your customary driving position and keep 10 inches between the center of the steering wheel and the center of your chest.
More details and an on-off switch request form may be obtained at www.safercar.gov/airbags. Given that on-off switches are not available for all vehicles, verify availability of a switch for the vehicle you want to purchase before you request authorization for switch installation.

Side Air Bags (SABs)

Side-impact air bag (SAB) technology has advanced rapidly in recent years. SABs offer additional protection to two main areas of the body – the head and the chest – during side-impact crashes.

SABs providing head protection show these footnotes in the charts: curtain (c), tubular (t), or combo (b). Curtain and tubular SABs typically deploy downward from the vehicle’s roof rail. Combination or “combo” air bags typically deploy upward from the seat back and provide both head and chest protection. SABs providing chest-only protection will have the following footnotes in the chart depending on their mount location: door-mounted (d) or seat-mounted (s). You should read the owner’s manual for specific information about the side-impact air bag system in a vehicle.

SAB Out-of-Position Tests

A Technical Working Group of experts representing the automotive and insurance industries has developed voluntary SAB testing procedures to minimize the potential risk of SAB-related injuries for out-of-position occupants. If a vehicle has an “M” in the column labeled “SAB Out-of-Position Tests,” it means the manufacturer has reported to the government that all SABs in the vehicle have successfully completed the full battery of tests specified under the voluntary guidelines.

Rollover Air Bags

With input from a separate rollover sensor, some curtain SABs can be designed to also deploy as rollover air bags in the event of a rollover. Rollover air bags stay inflated longer to help keep you inside the vehicle. Ejection is the most common source of injuries and fatalities in rollover crashes. Rollover air bags, along with properly worn safety belts, reduce the risk of injury and ejection. Check the Available Features chart for the individual vehicle at www.safercar.gov for the availability of curtain SABs that function as rollover air bags.

Consider Weight

All other things being equal, a heavier vehicle will generally better protect you in a crash. This is particularly the case in two-vehicle crashes. NHTSA research historically has shown that occupants in passenger cars are at a greater risk of being fatally injured when struck in the front or the side by a heavier and higher-riding light truck (such as a pickup) or SUV. Improved energy-absorbing front ends and safety technologies such as head-protecting side-impact air bags can help lower this risk to vehicle occupants


Visit www.safercar.gov for the latest information on crash test and rollover ratings and other important vehicle safety information.

If you have a safety problem with your vehicle, report it to the Vehicle Safety Hotline: 888-327-4236, TDD 800-424-9153. Each year, nearly three-quarters of newly opened defect investigations are based on consumer reports to NHTSA via the Hotline, the Web, e-mail, or letters.

You can also visit www.safercar.gov to view Buying a Safer Car for Child Passengers, which contains important information to consider when purchasing a vehicle in which children will ride.

Additional copies of this and other vehicle safety-related brochures can be ordered by calling the Hotline: 888-327-4236.


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