Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday proposed upgrading its five-star rating system for new vehicles by adding standards for crash-avoidance technology and using more human-like test dummies that better measure crash impacts on the body.
Starting with testing for 2019 model years, officials would also add an angled front collision test and a rating for how well vehicles mitigate pedestrian crashes, officials said. The changes would mark the first time the ratings consider the safety of people outside a vehicle.
“Our goal is not just to protect people in the event that an accident occurs. We also want to eliminate crashes altogether,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Tuesday at a news conference at department headquarters.
“By making it tougher to get a five-star rating, we are effectively creating more of a marketplace for safety-enhancing technologies. Whether these technologies are mandated in the future or not, we think this is market-changing stuff that’s going to impact safety for the good.”
Foxx said the ratings upgrades – the first since 2011 – would pressure automakers to implement readily available safety and advanced technologies “not just in the luxury and expensive vehicle market, but making (them) more universally available in all models.”
The new assessments of crash-avoidance technologies include features such as lane-departure detection, automatic emergency braking, front-collision warnings, blind-spot detection and visibility-related elements such as high-performing low-beam headlights.
Foxx also spoke of encouraging automakers to “move boldly” toward a future in which connected and autonomous vehicles make driving the roads even safer.
NHTSA Administrator Mark R. Rosekind said, “There’s no doubt that when testing begins under testing for 2019 model year, achieving that coveted five-star rating is going to be tougher than ever. But that’s just the way it should be.”
Rosekind said he hopes that adding a pedestrian-safety component to ratings will give manufacturers an incentive to bring pedestrian protections to U.S. models that they’ve already incorporated into their fleets elsewhere in the world.
Engineers recommended a front-impact crash test at a 15-degree angle to encourage safety improvements that better protect motorists in “some of the most common and dangerous crashes on our roads,” Rosekind said.
An analysis of 14 years of crash data found those crashes tend to cause head, neck, cervical spine and abdominal injuries, said Jennifer Dang, division chief of the New Car Assessment Program. Those front-angle crashes are commonly seen when a motorist drifts into oncoming traffic.
The rating system was created in 1978 to provide consumers with information about the crashworthiness of new vehicles, offering data that can help them comparison shop. The safety ratings are posted on the window stickers required to be displayed on new vehicles for sale. A final decision on the planned changes is expected by the end of 2016.
Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America, said the only downside of the proposed changes are they won’t be implemented until the 2019 model year.
“Our hope is that after a comment period, NHTSA will speed up the implementation of this life-saving new rating system,” Gillis said in a statement. “The dummies are designed, the test protocols established and the rating factors identified – there’s little reason to hold up implementation for three years.”
The Auto Alliance, a trade group representing Detroit's Big Three automakers, along with Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and other firms, said it would provide comments, focusing on information that is based on scientific evaluations and real-world data that is “most meaningful to consumers.”
“Looking ahead, a significant portion of future highway safety gains will likely come from these advanced technologies,” the alliance said in a statement.
“Our customers are very safety savvy, and they tell us they want to decide how to spend their safety dollars.”
Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said it makes sense to encourage the increased use of crash-avoidance technology.
“Designing vehicle structures to help occupants survive an accident was an automaker’s only option 30 years ago, but now cars can ‘see’ almost as well as humans, which means they can make the call to apply brakes and even swerve away from danger if the driver fails to act,” Brauer said.