NHTSA Toughens Crash Ratings System

Ratings now cover use of nine accident-preventing technologies.

by on Dec.09, 2015

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx laid out the plans for a revised safety ratings for new vehicles.

Federal regulators have rolled out a revised safety rating system that will now reflect the use of nine advanced technologies designed to not only keep motorists safe in a crash but also help them avoid accidents in the first place.

The updated, 5-star system will upgrade the way vehicles are tested in frontal, side and rollover accidents, and they now will take into account whether those cars, trucks and crossovers also use any of nine different technologies, such as forward collision warning or auto headlight systems.

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“We’re going to raise the bar when it comes to protecting vehicle occupants,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The new rating system will now go through a 60-day public review process and could be revised before going into effect, as planned, for the 2019 model-year. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which will oversee implementation, testing and enforcement, is optimistic it will win broad support, especially at a time when there is both public and bipartisan political support for improved automotive safety.

Among those lending support to the government announcement was Deborah Hersman, director of the non-profit National Safety Council.

(After a long decline, traffic deaths on the rise again. For more, Click Here.)

“Vehicle safety is entering an entirely new dimension,” Hersman said in a statement. “Technology can do amazing, life-saving things and today, auto manufacturers are offering many amazing new technologies as options for consumers. Regulators have the opportunity and the obligation to adjust our safety standards to keep up with these safety innovations.”

Crash tests will remain central to the testing process. And among the changes announced by Foxx, NHTSA will now add a new test meant to simulate what happens when cars crash at an angle. The goal is to make the tests more reflective of what happens in real-world accidents.

Separate crash tests run by the trade group the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, were updated several years ago to include tests reflecting what happens when vehicles clip corners head-on or head poles and trees. The results have led to significant updates in the design of the latest vehicles. NHTSA now hopes to have a similar effect on engineering and design.

The new tests will also see the introduction of the latest generation of crash test dummies. Where the current design uses 50 to 60 sensors, with just one for the rib cage, the new ones should more accurately reflect what happens in a crash by using 100 sensors, four for the ribs.

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The new standards could see many vehicles receive lower ratings than they do today, according to Mark Rosekind, head of NHTSA. About nine in 10 of the models now on the road have either a four or five-star rating. That would like drop to three-and-a-half stars without upgrades, especially to the technologies they use.

Among the nine that NHTSA will focus on:

  • Forward Collision Warning systems use cameras, radar or a combination of technologies to alert a driver to a possible crash. More advanced systems also can apply the brakes automatically should a driver fail to response quickly enough;
  • Automatic headlight systems can switch from high to standard beams when detecting a vehicle in the same lane ahead, or oncoming traffic;
  • Lane Departure Warning systems alert a driver who might inadvertently drift out of their lane.

Other technologies are meant to help prevent rollover accidents, and better signal a turn by switching the color of rear turn signals to amber, which is more easily distinguished from a vehicle’s brake lights.

The IIHS took a similar step recently. It now requires a vehicle to come with forward collision warning in order to receive a Top Safety Pick+ rating.

“Whether these technologies are mandated in the future or not, we think this is market changing stuff that is going to impact safety to the good,” Foxx said.

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Safety advocates say technologies such as electronic stability control have led to a sharp reduction in vehicle fatalities in recent years. The highway death toll has dropped 40% since reaching its peak four decades ago.  But there was an unexpected increase during the first half of 2015, federal regulators reported last month, in part due to motorists clocking more miles as the economy has recovered and fuel prices have plunged to a seven-year low.

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4 Responses to “NHTSA Toughens Crash Ratings System”

  1. Rod Cirew says:

    Of these proposals, the angle test is useful as is changing rear turn signals to amber just like the rest of the world has been for decades. Even heavier structures just to reduce all the 4 and 5 star vehicles to 3 – why? Is it needed? Or is it just some bureaucrat’s hope to be recognized as having a productive job in society by what is, on the surface of it at least, mere grandstanding.

    The electronic gubbins is a whole different issue. None of them act the same between manufacturers. Subaru’s reacts differently to Mazda’s, and both are not the same as Acura or Chrysler which is different again (been looking at new cars myself). Until there is a standardized response so that all cars are the same (and picking the best system to impose on the others), then just having these things is a waste of time in my opinion. They’re just toys at this stage. Amateur hour in fact. The joke is all these mfrs are going to inflict their autonomous cars on us soon, with all these poor systems on deck driving like grandma with a nervous tic.

    Least annoying is rear cross traffic alert, by golly if the sensor isn’t affected by road grime it’s quite useful – the remainder are all over the place, just like auto cruise. False positives, giant BRAKE signs appearing on the dash when not needed, front pedestrian alert not sounding until after said person has already finished crossing street! Left side of the lane hugging or swerving back and forth like a drunken sailor. Rubbish.

    Unless NHTSA also rates these gimmicky things into minimum – mediocre, acceptable, good, then merely legislating their use is silly. Who needs another dud feature so bad you just turn it off?

  2. GT101 says:

    Many naïve fools believe that you can legislate anything you desire. Reality has proven them wrong many times. What NHTSA and the insurance industry are looking to do is dupe people into buying a highly rated model that might just get them killed compared to another model without the electronic toys.

  3. Kage McGuire says:

    There must be a standard that is universal to all manufacturers and common diagnostic programs and tools. Sensors must be able to stand up to real world conditions and real world vehicle owners neglect. It’s cost must be offset in some fashion to keep the sky rocketing prices of vehicles in check. Areas I see of issue on the road today is erratic driving, excess of speed for road and traffic conditions and following too close. All of which is controllable by the driver. So how do we make a vehicle to over ride unsafe drivers? The only solution which is the most undesirable is to remove control from the driver and give it to the car.

    • GT101 says:

      There is ZERO interest in requiring competent driver skills for vehicular operators in the U.S. the country that decided that ILLEGAL ALIENS in New York city are “entitled” to a driver’s license so that they can become taxi drivers. Evidently the status of being an ILLEGAL ALIEN seems to have escaped NY city government.

      The politicians falsely believe they can eliminate all accidents with AVs – which illustrates just how removed from reality these people are. The fact that programmers can’t even properly write code for AV test vehicles should be a clue that society is a long ways away from having safe, properly designed, engineered, manufactured and maintained AVs. The best way to remove the controls from the incompetent drivers at this point in time is to make them take the bus or the train.