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NHTSA to Overhaul 5-Star Safety Ratings

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that it plans to overhaul its 5-Star Safety Ratings. Given that many consumers rely on these ratings when purchasing a new vehicle, the enhancements are welcome news.

According to the NHTSA, the new ratings will make a number of updates intended to modernize its assessment of new vehicles, such as evaluating crash-avoidance technologies and using more human-like crash test dummies. In addition to providing more information to car buyers, the agency is also hopeful that the new system will encourage manufacturers to produce vehicles with better crash protection and innovative new technology.

Under the current 5-Star Safety Ratings program, the NHTSA crash-tests new vehicles every year and rates them on how well they protect occupants in frontal, side and rollover crashes. Results from these tests are used to assign a rating of 1 to 5 stars, with more stars indicating a safer car. Consumers can view the ratings on the window stickers of new cars, as well as on NHTSA’s Safercar.gov website.

The planned changes to the 5-Star Safety Ratings system 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 test safety improvements for rear seat occupants;
  • New crash test dummies, including the Test device for Human Occupant Restraint, (THOR) and WorldSID, which 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.

For consumers who are in the market to buy a new vehicle in the New Year, the rating system is still in the early stages of implementation. According to the NHTSA, it will not be up and running until car makers release their Model Year 2019 vehicles.