WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The U.S. Department of Transportation today called on automakers, safety advocates and consumers to help the federal government develop a more effective five-star safety rating program aimed at helping consumers decide which vehicles to buy. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Nicole Nason today kicked off a day-long public meeting on proposed improvements to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) used to develop the government’s five-star safety ratings, and urged the public to offer suggestions on ways to improve the program by April 10. Peters asked for ideas on the best way to improve the current front, side and rollover tests conducted by NCAP. She also asked for advice on whether the department's proposed enhancements, including adding upper leg injuries to its frontal crash tests and head injuries to its side crash tests, would raise the bar on safety. Moreover, Peters solicited advice on the best way to include ratings for proven crash avoidance technologies such as electronic stability control, and those emerging ones like lane-departure and rear-collision avoidance. "While we have made some strong and sweeping recommendations for strengthening this system, we know that we don't have a monopoly on good ideas," Peters said. "When it comes to saving lives and preventing injuries, there is always room for improvement. Strengthening and improving the current five-star program will help us continue to give consumers the most up-to-date and useful information about the safety of the vehicles they are considering." For close to 30 years the NCAP has been providing consumers with information on the safety performance of vehicles sold in America. However, Peters noted, vehicles tested 10, 20 and 30 years ago are vastly different than today's improved fleet. As technology has reshaped vehicle performance and safety, it has also reshaped driving habits and the public's expectations for staying safe on the road. "The time has come to rethink our approach to testing the safety of vehicles in this country," Peters said. "As more safety technologies appear in our vehicles, our programs and procedures must be flexible to accommodate those advancements," added Nason. "These new innovations have the potential to save thousands of lives, and we must never become complacent when it comes to that." The public comment period for the proposed changes to the current NCAP program, which began in January 2007 when Peters visited the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, will close on April 10. NHTSA said it will begin to assess the comments and hopes to establish the proposed changes soon after.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials