Regulators Propose Changes To 5-Star Safety Ratings To Incorporate More Crash-Prevention Technology

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 3.03.33 PMCrash safety tests are about to get a whole lot different. Automakers striving to achieve five stars for safety from federal regulators will have to add a few things to their vehicle rosters as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced high-tech changes to its system. 

NHTSA announced on Tuesday that it would bring its 5-Star Safety ratings into a new era of safety by adding additional crash tests, using new and more human-like crash test dummies, rating crash-avoidance advanced technologies, and assessing pedestrian protection.

The proposed changes [PDF] aim to give consumers better information to help choose a safe vehicle, while encouraging manufacturers to produce vehicles with more crash protection and new technology innovations that will save lives.

“NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings have set the bar on safety since it began in 1978, and today we are raising that bar,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “The changes provide more and better information to new-vehicle shoppers that will help accelerate the technology innovations that saves lives.”

The 5-Star Safety Ratings, also known as the New Car Assessment Program, crash-tests new vehicles every year and currently rates them on how well they protect occupants in frontal, side and rollover crashes.

Results of the tests are then placed into a rating of one to five stars, with more stars indicating a safer car. The ratings appear on wind stickers for new vehicles and are searchable on

Under the overhauled standards, which won’t take effect until vehicles in model year 2019, NHTSA would rate automakers based on whether or not they add systems for forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, lower beam head lighting, semi-automatic headlamp beam switching, amber rear turn signals, rear automatic braking and pedestrian automatic emergency braking.

In all, the changes include:
• A new 5-Star Safety Ratings system, which will, for the first time, encompass assessment of crash-avoidance and advanced technologies as well as pedestrian protection;

• New tests to assess how well vehicles protect pedestrians from head, leg and pelvic injuries that occur when a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle;

• A new frontal oblique crash test that measures how well vehicles protect occupants in an angled frontal crash;

• An improved full frontal barrier crash test to drive safety improvements for rear seat occupants;

• New crash test dummies, including the Test device for Human Occupant Restraint, (THOR) and WorldSID, that will provide vastly improved data on the effects a crash is likely to have on the human body;

• An assessment of additional crash-avoidance and advanced technologies that offer drivers the most potential for avoiding or mitigating crashes;

• Use of half-star increments to provide consumers more discriminating information about vehicle safety performance; and

• The ability to dynamically update the program more swiftly as new safety technologies emerge.

Lawmakers were quick to applaud the proposed changes, saying the new system was a win for both consumers and innovators.

“Consumers trust auto window-sticker safety ratings when they compare vehicles, and incorporating features like collision warning and automative emergency braking will tell consumer how safe their vehicles really are,” Massachusetts senator Edward Markey said in a statement [PDF].

Consumer advocates called the proposal a big step to ensure that new vehicles are safe.

“These updates will create a powerful incentive for automakers to make the latest life-saving technologies available on more vehicles more quickly, and that’s great news for consumers,” William Wallace, policy analyst for our colleagues at Consumers Union, said in a statement. “We applaud NHTSA for today’s announcement and look forward to working with the agency to help put this plan into action as soon as possible.”

NHTSA will collect public comment on the changes for 60 days, with final notice of the planned changes expected to be complete by the end of 2016.

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