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NHTSA Mulls Expanded Safety Ratings for Older Vehicle Occupants

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my grandfather!The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking into ways of expanding its safety rating system for vehicles, to protect the growing number of older drivers and passengers, according to news reports. The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a public notice on Thursday to start the review process for its five-year plan for the rating system, Ayesha Rascoe writes for Reuters.

The NHTSA is considering a “silver” rating system to cover how well vehicles protect older occupants in car accidents, writes Angela Greiling Keane for Bloomberg Businessweek. She goes on to say:

While brands such as General Motors Co. (GM)’s Cadillac are seeking younger buyers, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said he thinks a ‘silver’ rating will be attractive to automakers because of the purchasing power of the aging baby-boom generation.

‘They’re saying nobody wants to be the car for seniors, but the baby boom is the largest generation in the history of this country,’ Strickland said after a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington. ‘And they’re buying cars.’

The agency notes that older people in vehicles are less able than young ones to withstand crash forces when they are involved in a collision. The silver system would be an addition to the agency’s primary safety ratings, Rascoe writes. The government has been using a five-star rating system since 1978, which initially included only ratings for frontal crashes, but has been expanded to include side-crash results and other areas.

The agency’s crash test results act as non-regulatory incentives for car makers to improve the safety of their vehicles in order to use high ratings in their marketing, Keane writes.

A “silver” system could give higher safety scores to those vehicles with inflatable seat belts or technologies that prevent drivers from accidentally hitting the wrong pedal, Rascoe writes.

NHTSA is asking for feedback on how it can evaluate the safety of new technologies — such as blind-spot detection, automatic braking in the event of an impending accident — and how it can compare such features from one vehicle brand and model to another. The agency will issue a draft plan after it reviews public comments, and possibly also a proposal for some updates to the program, Rascoe writes.

Until the silver system is enacted, there are things older drivers can do to protect themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines — both prescription and over-the-counter — to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
  • Drive only in daylight and good weather.
  • Find the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
  • Plan your route before you drive.
  • Leave a large following distance behind the car in front of you. (Don’t tailgate!)
  • Avoid distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking on your cell phone, texting, and eating.
  • Consider alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend or using public transit.

Image by Jessie Jacobson.


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