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John Bisnar
John Bisnar
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NHTSA Holds Public Hearing On Five-Star Rating

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What about competitive testing? Only the truly best get a 5-Star rating.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been rating cars and trucks on how they perform in crash tests for 30 years, is considering overhauling the tests just as the ratings will become more obvious to consumers, according to an article published Wednesday in USA Today.

NHTSA gives vehicles one to five stars, five being best, based on how they perform in a 35-mph. head-on crash and in a side-impact crash. The agency will hold a hearing today on proposals to change the ratings by adding tests at lower speeds and considering how well vehicles avoid crashes, the article said.

The push to change the tests comes as a new law will take effect this fall requiring window stickers on all new cars displaying the agency’s ratings. The safety tests that determine how many stars a vehicle should get have been continually changed keeping up with new safety findings.

For example, when the rating system began, safety belts and air bags were not tested on how well they protected drivers and passengers. According to Adrian Lund of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, “the ratings quickly proved their value.” For some crash-test dummies, the “heads were hitting steering wheels and instrument panels even though they were belted.”

It is not mandatory that vehicles should score well in the star ratings to be sold.

On Wednesday, NHTSA hosted a day-long public hearing to take comments from auto makers, safety advocates and consumers on how to improve the program.

The federal agency is considering several proposed enhancements to the program including adding upper leg injuries to its frontal crash tests and head injuries to its side crash tests, which officials hope would raise the bar on safety. The department is also considering including ratings for proven crash avoidance technologies such as electronic stability control and rear-collision avoidance. The public comment period will close April 10 after which NHTSA will begin to assess the comments and come up with a new program. More information is available on www.safercar.gov.

Beefing up NHTSA’s rating system would be a benefit to the automobile buying public. The highest rating should be given only to the top 10% in performance testing. The way NHTSA runs its testing program’s now, a large percentage of tested vehicle’s are awarded a 5-star rating. We as a motoring public have no way of differentiating between the safety reliability of the vehicles awarded “5 Stars”.

Come on NHTSA, get tough. Encourage the automakers to compete for the top ranking. In that way our motor vehicles will get safer and safer as the years go by.