The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Bills Seek to Update Vehicle Safety Rating Criteria

June 16, 2015

Cadillac safety tech photo by John F. Martin for Cadillac.
Cadillac safety tech photo by John F. Martin for Cadillac.

Lawmakers have introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate and House requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise its 5-Star crashworthiness rating system so that it takes into account a vehicle model’s active safety technology.

Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the bill in the Senate, and Representatives Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Wash.) introduced the same measure in the House on June 10.

The legislation, known as the Safety Through Informed Consumers Act, would ensure that the “latest safety technologies are integrated into the 5-star rating system, arming new car buyers with potentially life-saving information,” Rokita said. “This is a common-sense, bipartisan bill that promotes innovation, empowers consumers, and protects lives.”

NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) created the 5-Star safety ratings program to provide consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover safety of new vehicles.

The 5-Star program dates back to 1978, when scores hinged on frontal crash test results. Side crash test results were added with 1997 model-year vehicles, and rollover assessments began with 2001 models. With 2011 model-year vehicles, the agency introduced side pole testing, using different sized dummies, collecting more crash data, and issuing a single “overall vehicle score” for a vehicle model. NHTSA also started identifying vehicles equipped with advanced technology features, such as lane departure warning and forward collision warning.

But such advanced safety features still aren't a part of the 5-Star ratings program. If passed into law, the newly introduced legislation would change that.

“Consumers trust auto window-sticker safety ratings when they compare vehicles,” Markey said. “Today’s 5-star safety rating system only tells them how safe they are in the vehicle once a crash occurs, ignoring any features like collision warning and automatic emergency braking that can help avoid that crash in the first place. With new safety technology standard in many cars, we need a 21st century 5-star safety rating system that tells consumers how safe their vehicles really are.” 

Such legislation may also help advance one of the recommendations included in the National Transportation Safety Board’s report released June 8. The report advocates for universal availability of forward collision avoidance systems in new vehicles to prevent and mitigate rear-end crashes.

The NTSB document calls for a number of incentives to compel automakers to support an industry mandate in which all new passenger and commercial vehicles have collision avoidance systems as standard equipment. One of those incentives, NTSB said, would arise from NHTSA developing tests and standards to rate the performance of each vehicle’s collision avoidance systems. Those results would then be incorporated into an expanded NCAP 5-Star safety rating scale.

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