When the EuroNCAP (European New Car Assessment Program) was established back in 1997 the achievement of a five star rating in any of the categories seemed almost impossible. Just over ten years later, 97% of vehicles tested scored either a four or a five star rating in the crucial adult occupant protection category. The program has for long been seen as a benchmark to push carmakers to improve safety levels of their vehicles, but with most now achieving almost perfect scores there’s pressure for regulators to toughen the standards.

Starting next year it will be tougher for carmakers to earn a top score as regulators are planning to introduce an all-new rating system. There are still areas of safety that the EuroNCAP believes is need of improvement - namely the area of pedestrian safety. No carmaker has yet claimed a top score of four stars in pedestrian protection, with most averaging about two stars.

Carmakers have focused on improving occupant safety to attract customers but this has come at a cost to pedestrian safety. To overcome this problem, the new rating system will reward the overall safety of a vehicle. It will also take into account for the first time advanced driver assistance technologies such as electronic stability control and anti whiplash devices.

The first results for vehicles tested under this new rating system will be released in February next year.

In a statement issued today to announce the changes to the test, the EuroNCAP’s secretary general Michiel van Ratingen said "It is imperative that EuroNCAP continues to set higher benchmarks for carmakers to aspire to. Our new rating system will do this." He also revealed that "the five star cars of today will not be the five star cars of tomorrow."

There’s now similar pressure on regulators in other regions to also toughen standards for crash safety. Last month the U.S. government revealed changes to the NCAP testing procedure and prior to that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) changed a number of standards for roof safety.