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NHTSA Proposes Safety Ratings Improvements

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Safety ratings can help you pick a car that will best protect you from car accidents.

Improved crash test dummies are among the changes proposed for the 5-Star Safety Ratings.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Tuesday that it is proposing high-tech changes that will make its 5-Star Safety Ratings system even better, and that will make driving safer. They hope to have the new ratings system ready for Model Year 2019 vehicles. The agency would like to hear from the public about the plans and will be collecting public comments for the next 60 days.

Changes to Safety Ratings System

The proposed changes include the following:

  • A new 5-Star Safety Ratings System that for the first time will assess crash-avoidance and advanced technologies, as well as pedestrian protection.
  • New crash test dummies that will provide greatly improved information on how crashes affect human bodies. One of the new crash test dummies is named THOR, for Test Device for Human Occupant Restraint, and has a flexible spine and a neck that bends and twists more like a human neck, wrote Jeff Plungis for Bloomberg.
  • New tests that will evaluate how effectively vehicles protect pedestrians from injuries to the head, legs, and pelvis when struck by a vehicle.
  • A new frontal oblique crash test to measure how well a vehicle protects occupants in cases of an angled front crash.
  • A better Full Frontal Barrier Crash Test to encourage automakers to improve safety for rear seat passengers.
  • The use of half-stars in the ratings in order to give consumers better safety distinctions between tested vehicles.
  • An assessment of more crash-avoidance and advanced technologies offering drivers the best chances of avoiding or lessening the effect of car accidents.
  • The ability to dynamically update the program more swiftly as new safety technologies emerge.

Increase in Highway Fatalities

Plungis wrote:

The proposal comes as highway fatalities are on the rise. The death toll on U.S. highways rose 8.1 percent in the first half of 2015 as low fuel prices contributed to a jump in miles driven by Americans. The preliminary figures represent a ‘troubling departure’ from a general downward trend over the past decade, the NHTSA said in a report last month. In 2014, the fatality rate hit an all-time low.

Once the changes are implemented, the standards for vehicles to do well in the tests will be tougher than they are now. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said:

Cars using all the safety technology currently available, however, would only be able to achieve about 3 1/2 stars under the tougher scale.

NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings program was the first of its kind, Rosekind said, “And the idea has now spread around the world.”

Analyzing Feedback to Make Changes

Once the 60-day comments period has ended, NHTSA will analyze the feedback and by the end of 2016 will issue a final decision notice on the planned changes to its program. To help people shopping for vehicles understand how the new ratings system can assist them in choosing a vehicle to buy, the agency plans to launch what it calls an “intense” consumer awareness campaign. The NHTSA also plans to provide briefings for the automotive industry and safety organizations.

Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said changes to NHTSA’s crash tests are overdue:

Today’s announcement shows that NHTSA is willing to make significant changes to keep NCAP relevant and a reliable source of critical information for consumers.

Sen. Edward Markey told Plungis, “NHTSA gets a gold star for taking this important step.” The Democrat from Massachusetts worked with Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on the recently passed FAST Act highway construction bill, which includes a mandate to include crash-avoidance technologies. 

Here is a video NHTSA made about the proposed changes:


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