There are three things most people consider when looking for a new vehicle: price, style or appearance and safety. The first two are easy to measure-all you have to do is look at it. Safety, though, relies on the word of third parties and many people don’t really know what those safety ratings mean.

There are two primary organizations behind safety ratings: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Each group does their own rankings based on different criteria. It’s possible that one says a vehicle is safe while the other considers it average (or worse). Consumers should use this information to make their own choices.

What criteria is used?

As mentioned, each organization is different. Combined, they factor in technology, materials used, architecture and physics. For example, the heavier car in any collision will bear less impact than the lighter vehicle. This doesn’t mean that all heavy vehicles are safe, though.

Here are three important factors that organizations use:

  • Technology – This is a broad term, but many newer cars use collision-avoidance technology to help drivers in a pinch. Vehicles with better tech will get better ratings.
  • Architecture – As technology has advanced, so has car design. Technology influences the design of “crumple zones” to protect the driver and passengers from harm in the event of a collision.
  • Center of gravity – In addition to crumple zones, vehicles that are closer to the road surface are less likely to roll over. Elevated SUVs and pickup trucks sit higher, and in those cases roof strength is also an important measurement to make sure that passengers are safe if the vehicle does topple or rollover.

Safety matters, but injuries still happen

What goes into a safety rating is important for saving lives, but injuries happen in almost all car accidents, even when lives are not lost. When people travel at high speeds, the impact of heavy vehicles and the sudden change of speed causes bumps, bruises, fractures, internal injuries and traumatic brain injury.

Many accidents are not physically visible but significantly influence daily life in the aftermath of a crash. Injuries lead to time away from work, purchase of special medical equipment and even personal matters like increased moodiness, loss of sleep or damage to relationships. Anyone involved a crash should always take advantage of your legal right to get full compensation to cover the costs and damages of both the crash and the recovery process.