How Do Vehicle Safety Ratings Impact Insurance Rates?

Last Updated on August 13, 2020

You may have heard that vehicle safety ratings impact car insurance rates. It’s true: the safety rating of your vehicle will affect your premiums.

Cars with strong safety ratings have a lower risk of injuries than cars with poor safety ratings. Insurers are often required to pay medical bills after an accident, and strong safety ratings mean lower medical bills for insurers.

Insurers look at hundreds of factors to calculate insurance premiums. Today, we’re explaining how vehicle safety ratings impact insurance rates.

How Do Vehicle Safety Ratings Impact Insurance Rates?

How Vehicle Safety Ratings Work

You may have seen commercials for different vehicles that highlight their stellar safety ratings. There are actually several major organizations now that analyze vehicle safety ratings. These organizations look at two main factors to calculate a safety rating, including:

  • How well the vehicle can avoid accidents
  • How well the vehicle protects it’s passengers
  • How well the vehicle performs in a crash (crashworthiness)

Some vehicles are great at avoiding accidents. Drivers can slam on the brakes and swerve to avoid a sudden accident, for example, without rolling the vehicle. This can significantly lower the risk for insurers. Vehicles are more likely to avoid accidents. Plus, occupants of the vehicle avoid injury.

Other vehicles have strong safety ratings because they perform well in crashes. The vehicles maintain their structure during an accident, for example, while protecting passengers from harm.

Some vehicles – the vehicles with the best safety ratings – do both. They avoid crashes and they perform well in any crashes that do occur. These are the vehicles that receive the top awards.

Who Awards Vehicle Safety Ratings?

The two best-known vehicle safety rating organizations are the:

  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

The two organizations perform similar tests to analyze a vehicle’s safety rating, and results tend to be similar.

The IIHS will perform side-impact and rollover crash tests. Based on their analysis, the IIHS will rate a vehicle as poor, marginal, acceptable, or good. The IIHS also gives out annual awards to the best-performing vehicles. The IIHS publishes its ratings here.

The NHTSA, meanwhile, crunches numbers from real crashes and test crashes across the country to determine its own safety ratings. The NHTSA publishes its ratings at SaferCar.gov.

Edmunds.com, Motortrend.com, CarAndDriver.com, Carfax.com, and Informed for Life also publish vehicle safety ratings online. These organizations combine IIHS and NHTSA safety ratings with factors like vehicle weight, creating a safety score for each vehicle.

You can view Informed for Life’s safety score for each vehicle here. You can browse safety ratings by the year, make, model, and style of any vehicle. The safest vehicles have better than average weight compatibility and are rated five stars overall by the NHTSA and meet top safety pick criteria by the IIHS. They also have an NHTSA side-impact rating of five stars, a rollover rating of at least four stars, and a front crash prevention system rated Superior by IIHS.

Safest Passenger Vehicles of 2020

According to Informed For Life, the safest vehicles by combined safety rating for 2020 include all of the following (ranked in descending order):

  • Audi Q8 SUV AWD
  • Subaru Ascent SUV AWD
  • Volkswagen Atlas SUV FWD
  • BMW X3 SUV AWD or RWD
  • Ford Edge SUV AWD or FWD
  • Kia Sorento SUV AWD or FWD
  • Audi Q5 SUV AWD
  • Genesis G80 4 DR AWD or RWD
  • Honda Odyssey Van FWD
  • Lincoln Continental 4 DR AWD or FWD
  • Chevrolet Equinox SUV AWD or FWD
  • Honda CR-V SUV AWD or FWD
  • Hyundai Tucson SUV AWD or FWD
  • Mazda CX-5 SUV AWD or FWD
  • Subaru Forester SUV AWD

All of the above vehicles received a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA and “Good” ratings across the board from the IIHS. They’re the safest passenger vehicles in the United States based on crash performance, crash avoidance, rollover risk, and other factors.

Safety Ratings and Insurance Premiums – What’s the Connection?

Insurance companies use hundreds of factors to calculate insurance premiums. Vehicle safety ratings are one factor.

Generally speaking, safer vehicles have lower insurance premiums than more dangerous vehicles. Safer vehicles mean lower medical bills and vehicle repair expenses for insurers.

Insurance companies can lose hundreds of thousands from a single accident. If a vehicle has a poor crash performance rating, then a single accident can lead to enormous or lifelong medical bills. This is the worst-case scenario for an insurance company. That’s why insurers charge higher rates on vehicles with poor safety ratings: they’re taking on higher risk.

Of course, safety ratings aren’t the only factor. A bad driver in a safe vehicle may pay higher rates than a good driver in an unsafe vehicle. Having a safe vehicle does not guarantee lower insurance rates.

Insurance companies may check IIHS and NHTSA data to calculate insurance premiums. However, insurance companies will also check vehicle data – including real crash data, theft data, and more. Some vehicles are associated with higher risk even with high safety ratings.

Let’s say you’re comparing premiums between a sportscar and a minivan. The minivan has a poor safety rating, while the sportscar has a very good safety rating. However, the sportscar has a higher risk of a serious accident than the minivan. Sportscar drivers drive faster and tend to take more risks than minivan drivers. Even though one vehicle has a higher safety rating than the other, real crash data tells us one vehicle is riskier to insure.

For all of these reasons, insurance premiums can be complicated. Yes, cars with better safety ratings tend to have lower insurance premiums than cars with poorer safety ratings, but there are many factors involved.

Other Vehicle Safety Features Can Also Lower Insurance Rates

Your vehicle’s safety rating is just one factor involved in insurance rates. Insurers will check other vehicle safety features that may not be included in ratings, including:

  • Airbags
  • Blindspot warnings
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Lane departure warnings
  • Rear-view cameras
  • Dashcams
  • Safe exit assistance

Today’s vehicles come with advanced technology that reduces the risk of accidents, injuries, and death.

Final Word on Safety Ratings and Insurance

Cars with strong safety ratings tend to have lower insurance premiums than cars with poor safety ratings. Your vehicle’s safety rating is one of the hundreds of factors impacting insurance premiums.

Consider checking your vehicle’s safety rating before you buy it. Or, compare insurance quotes online today to see how vehicle safety ratings impact car insurance premiums.

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