Sustainability 2011/12

Vehicle Safety

Case Study: Public Domain Ratings

Safety regulations and public domain rating programs differ around the world, and they are constantly evolving in response to various regional factors. The public domain rating programs that perform vehicle crash testing and other assessments have regularly updated their testing protocols and evaluation criteria to reflect the needs of the region. In the past two years, several of these programs have markedly revised their vehicle rating systems, making it increasingly difficult to achieve the highest ratings. Some of the changes include the addition of new assessment items (such as different-size dummies in different seating positions), more-stringent crash evaluation criteria and greater emphasis on accident avoidance and driver assist features. A major challenge for a global automotive company like Ford is that the complexities of these evolving programs may initiate a demand for different vehicle technology offerings in different markets.

In the 2010 calendar year (2011 model year), three major public domain ratings systems were significantly revised: the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) implemented by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); the Top Safety Pick program run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the U.S.; and the EuroNCAP system sponsored by seven European governments as well as motoring and consumer organizations. In addition, new NCAP-type systems are currently being launched in regions where they have not existed in the past. This is partly due to the influence of a new nonprofit organization based in London called Global NCAP that is promoting the establishment of NCAPs around the world. They have already helped to develop a Latin NCAP system, which is now rating vehicles in South and Central America. In 2012, they are planning to launch a new ASEAN NCAP in Malaysia.

NHTSA’s NCAP program includes a 35 mph (56 km/h) full frontal impact, a side barrier impact and a static stability rating. In the 2011 model year program, NHTSA updated its program by adding a rigid pole impact test to its side-impact evaluation; implementing the use of a smaller dummy in the passenger seat in frontal impact tests; and significantly changing its injury criteria. In addition, NHTSA now provides an overall vehicle score (a “star” rating, from one to five stars) representing a combination of the vehicle’s front, side and rollover ratings.

The IIHS evaluations include a 40 mph (64 km/h) deformable barrier frontal offset (40 percent overlap) crash, a side crash test with a higher barrier simulating an SUV, a rollover test, plus evaluations of head restraints in a rear-impact simulation performed on a sled fixture. In 2011 a new roof strength test was added. To earn a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, a vehicle must receive a “good” rating for the new roof strength test, in addition to “good” ratings in the front, side and head restraint assessments. Beginning in the 2013 program, the IIHS will add a small (25 percent) overlap frontal test, simulating minimum engagement or an impact with a narrow object, to their Top Safety Pick rating system. Vehicles that perform at a “good” level in this new small offset test will earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick–Plus award. This designation will allow vehicles that are currently Top Safety Picks to keep that award for a time while IIHS phases in the new test mode. The phase-in is expected to last several years.

Euro NCAP conducts a 64 km/h (40 mph) frontal offset (40 percent overlap) crash, a side crash and a side pole impact, as well as pedestrian protection and child safety evaluations. Recent changes to the EuroNCAP include the addition of a test for whiplash neck injury protection in rear impact, and rewards for speed limiters and the inclusion of electronic stability control technologies as standard features. Like NHTSA, EuroNCAP also gives each vehicle an overall star rating representing a combination of individual assessments. In addition to publishing the main vehicle ratings, EuroNCAP has added an Advanced Rewards program to recognize certain driver assistance and accident avoidance technologies that are not currently rated under their protocols. EuroNCAP has also announced significant changes to its rating system between 2013 and 2015. These changes are far-reaching and include a stronger focus on accident avoidance and driver assist features, new and revised crash tests and dummies, and changes to the assessments for pedestrian and child safety.

The emerging programs being developed by Global NCAP are basing their testing and assessment methods on existing protocols – typically those from EuroNCAP.

In addition, revisions to the China and Australasia NCAP programs are planned in stages and began taking effect in 2011. In 2012, changes to China NCAP include increasing the offset frontal impact test speed from 56 km/h to 64 km/h, the introduction of whiplash assessments and the inclusion of rear dummy assessments in the ratings. Australasia NCAP has published a rolling “road map” detailing changes they plan to introduce by 2016. These include whiplash and roof-strength assessments and increased requirements for accident avoidance and driver assist technologies.

As a result of the numerous and significant changes to the major public domain evaluation programs, it has become more difficult to compare vehicle rating results to previous model years. For example, many vehicles that achieved the highest rating of 5-star/5-star under the former NHTSA NCAP frontal crash evaluation now have lower ratings under the evaluation criteria implemented with the 2011 model year. Thus, even though Ford vehicles are safer than ever, our vehicle ratings in this evaluation are not comparable to previous years. (See the Data page.)

In addition, while some of the basic test methods are similar in the global evaluation programs, each program varies in the ways in which vehicle ratings are determined. This means that for an identical car, achieving the highest rating in one region or evaluation program does not guarantee the same result in another region or program.

Just as rating programs vary by region, so do regulations, road infrastructure, the competitive landscape and other factors that can influence real-world safety. We work to understand all of these variables and to deploy and offer safety features that meet the needs of the region. And we continue to invest in new technologies to prepare for future societal needs. At Ford, we strive to make technology available on a wide range of our products, even as we remain competitive in the markets in which Ford vehicles are sold. This approach promotes greater societal benefits through broad market acceptance of new technologies, which ultimately improves real-world safety.