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New Government Crash Tests on the Way for 2010

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Tuesday changes it will make to its current crash-test rating system. This is the star rating that must be posted on every car sticker, and which is routinely referred to in commercials and other advertising. The changes — to be issued for model year 2010 and beyond — are in response to the former tests being “too easy,” with 97% of vehicles scoring four or five stars out of five. 

The new testing procedures include a lot of improvements while retaining the star rating system. According to Cars.com senior editor Joe Wiesenfelder, one of the greatest faults with the current system is that even though a side-impact crash test measures head injuries — which are common and potentially fatal — that data isn’t figured into the star rating, which paints a picture than might be brighter than reality. According to NHTSA spokesman Ray Tyson, the new system will take that into account.

Side crash-worthiness will consist of the current sled test, measuring the impact from another moving car, as well as a new test that simulates collisions with a fixed object — a pole. Tyson said the inclusion of the new test was not due to any specific statistic pointing to injuries caused by such collisions, but rather that the test itself, coupled with the standard sled test, would lead to the development of stronger and safer cars.

The tests will also be conducted using an array of new crash-test dummies that simulate more occupant sizes, especially smaller drivers. The tests will also take into account damage to more parts of the body, including the legs.

All in all, there will now be four scores for consumers to sift through on a car’s sticker:

  • An overall score, called “Combined Crashworthiness Rating.”
  • Front crash test
  • Side crash test
  • Rollover crash test

Each test is weighted differently to achieve the combined score, with the front score worth 5/12 of the combined score, the side score worth 1/3 and the rollover score worth 1/4.

NHTSA will try to highlight the combined score as the one consumers should pay the most attention to when researching a car purchase.

No rear crash test will be added, like the one the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducts. Instead, NHTSA says it will direct consumers to IIHS’ website to find more information.

We’ll have to wait and see how the tests measure up to the ones conducted by IIHS, but overall, the new tests do sound like an improvement. 

Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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