Federal Crash Testing Needs Urgent Changes
There have been many changes in the world since the 1970s, but one thing has not changed is federal crash test safety ratings. Most auto purchasers are familiar with these ratings, but critics say the five and four-star ratings, representing the safest vehicles, are too easy to achieve. In addition, the testing program has not been upgraded to include the latest safety technology, such as blind spot warnings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says changes are on the way, but the agency has stated that before.
One consumer advocate described the NHTSA’s testing as starflation, since vehicles tend to receive the same high ratings. Because of this, it becomes more difficult for buyers to decipher which vehicle is truly safer than another, as they endeavor to decrease their risk of having car accidents. The entire system is outdated and requires a top-to-bottom revamping. The approval process for NHTSA changes is far too complicated and takes too long. The NHTSA relies on industry input, and wants to avoid lawsuits from car makers. With major reform, testing standards will remain behind the times when automobile technology is evolving at a rapid rate.
Currently, the NHTSA performs the following safety tests on vehicles:
- Frontal 35 miles per hour (mph) crash test
- Rollover resistance test
- Two-side impact tests
The NHTSA notes whether a car has certain safety features, such as lane departure warnings or automatic emergency braking. What it does not do, however, is rate pedestrian detection. This is an important feature because the rate of pedestrian and cycling accidents is increasing. Pedestrian deaths have risen by more than 50 percent over the past decade, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The NHTSA also does not score vehicles for crash avoidance.
New Crash Test Dummies
The standard crash test dummy, not surprisingly, is based on the standard male body. That means crash test results are not always indicative of how another type of body, such as that of a woman or child, may be impacted. When consumers are searching for a new vehicle, they want to know the test results for people of their size and build. This can help them better decide the car that is safest for them to reduce their risk of personal injury. The federal crash test dummies are not as sophisticated as newer crash test dummy models, which include better injury detection methodology.
Many safety advocates would like the NHTSA to adopt 14 tests required in Europe, but are not performed in the U.S. These include:
- Child seat evaluations
- Pedestrian and cyclist vehicle injury measurements
- Seating structure evaluations
- Whiplash tests
The international standard also includes a 40 mph crash into a barrier of similar size and weight as another car.
Faster Safety Technology Adoption
Changes in federal crash testing would likely lead to faster adoption by car manufacturers of new safety technology, according to car makers. That might include automated and connected vehicles, which are the wave of the future.
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