The latest Renault Megane received a lowly three-star overall EuroNCAP rating despite scoring 83 percent for adult occupant protection. Image: EuroNCAP.

EuroNCAP inspired something of a car safety revolution around the turn of the millennium.

One just needs to look at how badly most mainstream cars performed in its independent crash tests around 1997 - when the norm was two to three stars (and often less) - and then track the vast improvements in the years that followed.

Suddenly minimum legal safety standards became the joke they always should have been and buyers started to think seriously about how the structure around them would protect them in a crash.

In the early days, that was really what EuroNCAP was about and despite those ratings not always being 'technically valid' for other parts of the world (due to a car possibly having less airbags, for instance), these crash tests are still very much worth checking out.

In recent years, however, EuroNCAP has been putting a much bigger emphasis on other safety aspects, to the point where a strong crash performance no longer guarantees a good rating.

A case in point is the facelifted Renault Megane, which was recently awarded an overall EuroNCAP safety rating of just three stars mainly because of its rear seat-belt warning system. This despite the fact that its predecessor - which surely has the same crash structures - achieved five stars back in 2008.

Yes, folks, the 2014 Megane is only good for three stars, even though it achieved an 83 percent score for 'adult occupant' protection and 78 percent for 'child occupant' protection. It fell short in pedestrian protection (60 percent) and in the safety assist category for gadgets that aim to prevent and accident, where the Megane mustered 48 percent.

EuroNCAP admits that the Megane lost an entire star in its overall rating because "the (seatbelt reminder) system for the rear seats uses text to inform the driver of the status of the rear seatbelts and, as this information was not available in all languages."

Is there not a different kind of danger developing here? A danger that car companies are going to gradually stop taking EuroNCAP as seriously? And if that were ever to happen, who would be there to discourage their safety standards from slipping in the place where it counts the very most - the car's structure, seatbelts and airbag performance?

Don't know about you, but that's what I'll want to know before buying a car.

And it's all good and well for the 'safety assist' rating encourage these warning gadgets and active stability control systems and so on, but surely this all belongs in a separate rating? Because there are many accidents that the best driver and active safety gizmos simply cannot prevent.

So if you want to know how well a car is going to protect you in a crash, look beyond the overall safety rating and research its adult and child occupant ratings on the EuroNCAP website.

The Global NCAP website is another good resource for models built in other regions around the world.

In fact, the LatinNCAP subsidiary recently opened a big can of worms by showing that cars built in Brazil were generally of a lower safety standard than the equivalent European cars. But that's a story for another day.