Thanks to this independent organisation you no longer need to rely on a carmaker’s reputation or the list of safety equipment in the car you’re keen to buy to understand how safe a car is. Euro NCAP’s stringent crash tests are the gold standard of car safety.

So, if you’re looking for the safest car in the market, go check its Euro NCAP score.

But, how does Euro NCAP rate cars? Read on and we’ll explain how it tests cars and why that matters.

What is Euro NCAP?

Euro NCAP stands for European New Car Assessment Programme and is an independent European car safety performance assessment programme. Basically, Euro NCAP does crash-tests to assess how safe new cars are so that you can make an informed decision when looking for a secure vehicle.

Euro NCAP was established in 1997, funded by organisations from several European governments, as well as by the European Union. In the UK it’s backed by the Department of Transport and testing firms Thatcham Research and International Consumer Research and Testing.

The mechanics of how Euro NCAP tests work is simple. New cars randomly chosen are crash tested in a lab environment to a set of standards. Then, they get scored according to some strict criteria – from 1 to 5 stars. Euro NCAP doesn’t test on fuel-efficiency or speeds. The focus is on how safe a car is if it’s in a collision.

What’s Euro NCAP’s new Dual Rating system?

In April 2016 Euro NCAP introduced a dual rating system. Two ratings on a car mean that the car has been tested and scored twice – in its standard specification, but also when fitted with an optional safety pack.

If a car manufacturer wants the second optional star rating, they have to confirm that the extra safety technology will be fitted on at least 25 per cent of car models sold.

The first car that received a dual rating was the Suzuki Baleno, in April 2016. It got a three-star safety rating for its basic safety equipment and a four-star rating for the optional safety pack.

What do Euro NCAP ratings mean?

Euro NCAP ratings go from one-star, the lowest, to five-stars, the highest.

  • 5 stars safety – five stars mean that the car has “overall good performance in crash protection. Well equipped with robust crash avoidance technology”
  • 4 stars safety – awarded to cars that achieve “overall good performance in crash protection… Additional crash avoidance technology may be present”
  • 3 stars safety – protection of occupants must be “average to good”. Three-star cars are unlikely to have crash avoidance technology
  • 2 stars safety – for cars that have “nominal” crash protection. Expected to lack crash avoidance tech.
  • 1-star safety – marginal crash protection

Photo by Farzanah Rosli on Unsplash

Euro NCAP categories explained

Euro NCAP tests involve four different categories that cars get rated on. These ratings are shown as percentage scores and we’ll tell you all you need to know about them below.

Adult occupant protection

These crash tests measure how safe the interior of a car is for adults. They are carried out with a large male dummy and a small female dummy to make sure that the car protects safely passengers of different weights and heights.

Child occupant protection

Euro NCAP child occupant protection tests check how well children are protected in front and side impacts, as well as the car’s ability to accommodate different child seats and restraints. For that reason, it involves measuring where the belt buckles are, ISOFIX anchorage points or how easy, or not, is to install child seats.

Vulnerable Road Users

Vulnerable Road users tests were introduced in 2018 to measure safety for pedestrians and cyclists in a 25mph crash. To do that, they check and score head, upper leg and lower leg impact. Euro NCAP pedestrian protection ratings also test the efficiency of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) in scanning the road ahead, identifying potential hazards and warning the driver.

Safety Assist Systems

Euro NCAP judges all the features that help boost your car’s safety assist – from the seatbelt reminder beeps and fatigue warnings to advanced braking systems or speed limiters. These are the features that “support safe driving to avoid accidents and mitigate injuries”.

How do Euro NCAP tests work?

Euro NCAP runs several tests on each of the vehicles they score. The idea is that each experiment will be as similar as possible to real-world accidents. Like this, they can assess how safe a car is and what level of protection it will give its occupants and pedestrians in case of collision.

You have probably seen crash test dummies in ads and on YouTube. Well, they are a vital element in Euro NCAP car safety tests. These are highly sophisticated human-sized dummies full of sensors that record what may happen to a real person if they had an accident. There are crash-test dummies of different sizes and weights to simulate adults and children accurately.

Now, let’s move onto the different types of tests that the European New Car Assessment does to every new vehicle.

Frontal impact

Checks how a car performs in a front impact with another vehicle – airbags, seatbelts and structural strength of the car. From 2020 onwards this test involves a car travelling at 31mph clashing with a moving barrier travelling at the same speed. And it also assesses the damage the test car could potentially do to the car it collides with.

Car-to-car-side impact

Aimed at showing how a car struck by another vehicle from the side would protect its occupants. In this case, a heavy robot crashes into the side of the car roughly where the doors are and ‘injuries’ to the dummies are recorded. It also assesses the performance of the latest generation of central airbags.

Pole side impact

This test replicates what would happen if you lost control of your car and it impacts sideways into a post or a tree. The pole hits the car roughly in line with the doors.

Pedestrian protection

Good car design can protect pedestrians hit by a vehicle, and that’s another thing that Euro NCAP tests for. This test simulates collisions with adult and child pedestrians. And then checks how the design of the car has protected them.

Child protection systems

As mentioned above, Euro NCAP puts a lot of effort into assessing how safe cars are for children and how well they accommodate safety seats. They do so by using toddler- and child-sized dummies on the back seat.


Another thing that Euro NCAP tests for is the degree of neck injury that a sudden car crash can cause drivers and occupants. Good car design – like head restraints – can alleviate and mitigate the risk of whiplash injury

Speed assistance systems and seatbelt reminders

Another thing that Euro NCAP tests are speed assistance and seatbelt reminders. The first reminds you what the speed limit is on a certain stretch of road. The second is that beep that reminds you to put your seatbelt on.

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)

AEB is that new technology that makes it possible for the car to slow itself down when it detects an imminent collision. Euro NCAP examines how well they work on urban roads, rural roads and motorways.

AEB Vulnerable Road Users

This test aimed at determining how well can a vehicle detect cyclist and avoid collisions with them was introduced in 2018 by Euro NCAP.

Electronic stability control

And lastly, Euro NCAP tests the effectiveness of anti-skidding technology in modern cars. This bit of car tech is important because it means that a slight loss of control or grip can be managed by the vehicle rather than escalating into a potentially damaging skid.

Photo by anja. on Unsplash

Euro NCAP retesting

Can a car be tested again by Euro NCAP? Yes, plain and simple. Although cars can be retested at any time, Euro NCAP reviews all safety equipment every 12 months to make sure their ratings are still valid.

Also, you should know that Euro NCAP star ratings expire after six years.

Euro NCAP: How safe is my car?

If you’re wondering how safe your car is, then you’ll be happy to hear it’s a really easy thing to do. Visit Euro NCAP’s website and filter by make, model and year. Then you can download a report with all the details.

Safest Family Cars

Every year Euro NCAP releases a shortlist of the Top 10 Safest Family Cars. This is based on recently-tested vehicles that scored very well in the area of child occupant protection.

In 2021 the safest new family cars according to Euro NCAP are:

  1. Cupra Formentor – 93%
  2. Polestar 2 – 92%
  3. SEAT Leon – 92%
  4. Mazda MX-30 – 91%
  5. Audi A3 – 89%
  6. Volkswagen ID.3 – 87%
  7. Honda Jazz – 87%
  8. Toyota Yaris – 86%
  9. Land Rover Defender – 85%
  10. Kia Sorento – 82%

Euro NCAP safest car

Based on Euro NCAP’s ratings by March 2021, the safest new car in the market is the electric vehicle Polestar 2. It has an overall rating of five stars, with 89% protection for drivers, 92% for children, 80% for vulnerable road users and 86% for their safety assist systems.

Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash