New cars are safer than ever before. That doesn't mean all new cars are equally safe.
These days, even the least safe cars are, generally speaking, safe. Auto manufacturers selling cars in the US must ensure every car and truck meets minimum safety requirements -- that's everything from the obvious stuff, like seat belts and mirrors, to specially treated glass that prevents shattering, crumple zones that mitigate the shock of a collision, and, frankly, too many other features to list. In a five-star system such as the NHTSA's NCAP (New Car Assessment Program), a safety rating of one doesn't mean the car is a death trap -- it just means you're more likely to be injured in a collision in that car, compared to another modern vehicle.
Yet the rating system doesn't actually convey that kind of need-to-know information. It's the equivalent of a classroom consisting of all A and B students, with a couple of slacker C kids scraping by, and nary a D or F. Which sounds great in theory, with one very big but.
If every car is "above average," what do those ratings even mean?
If five stars is the norm, is a three-star ranking, in fact, really bad? It's an excellent question, and one the government needs to be much more clear about when releasing ratings. Otherwise, we might as well be ranking cars as A) Actually Good, B) Good So Long as You're Not in a Really Bad Accident, and C) Chances of Getting Hurt in a Crash: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.