Author: Scott Fitzgerald, Law Clerk
Crash test rating systems for new cars have been around for many years, but recent changes in technology and methods are a significant improvement. The latest reforms have also refined testing procedures and streamlined the ratings system to make it easier for the consumer to understand how well each vehicle performs in a car crash. Last fall U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that the "5 Star Safety Ratings System" will now evaluate cars based on whether they use crash-prevention and crash-protection technologies. Although the old ratings system also used 5 stars, in recent years most new vehicles were receiving the system's highest rating, which discouraged innovation in the field of new safety technologies.
The new ratings system awards points for whether vehicles use three of the latest technological developments. The first is called Electronic Stability Control. ESC detects loss of steering control by the driver and automatically applies the brakes on one side of the car to correct driver mistakes. Another cutting-edge advancement is called the Lane Departure Warning System, which monitors lane markings on the road and warns drivers of unintentional drifting. Lastly, cars receive additional points for using the Forward Collision Warning System, which detects vehicles and objects ahead in the road and cautions drivers of impending collisions. As NHTSA Administrator David Strickland explained, "[w]e want consumers to embrace these new safety technologies as a way to make vehicles safer ? [These systems] offer significant safety benefits and consumers should consider them when buying a new car."
The NHTSA also added Side Pole Crash Testing, which simulates a side impact with a tree or telephone pole by analyzing how well a vehicle fares in a 20 mph collision with a 10 inch pole. For the first time, the tests used smaller female dummies to compare how the female body reacts differently than males to the same car crash. For all frontal crash tests, the female dummy was placed in the passenger seat. Secretary LaHood said, "[w]ith our upgraded Five-Star Safety Ratings System, we're raising the bar on safety. Through new tests, better crash data, and higher standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers."
The overhauled ratings system also includes an Overall Vehicle Score that combines the results of all tests to make it easier for consumers to readily identify which automobile will help avoid a collision and keep them safest when a collision does occur.
About the Author: Scott Fitzgerald is a law clerk with Virginia injury law firm Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen. This article is brought to you by the Petersburg car crash attorneys of the personal injury law firm. If you have been involved in a car crash, call an experienced car crash attorney in Petersburg, Virginia.
 See Cheryl Jensen, New Federal Auto Safety Rating System Takes Effect, N.Y. Times, October 5, 2010, available at http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/new-federal-auto-safety-rating-system-takes-effect/.  Karen Aldana, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Rolls Out Upgraded 5-Star Vehicle Safety Ratings System, NHTSA, October 5, 2010, available at http://www.nhtsa.gov/PR/NHTSA-13-10.  To watch a video of cars undergoing this new side pole crash testing, see http://www.autoblog.com/2009/11/18/pole-dance-nhtsa-to-add-new-side-impact-crash-test-w-video/.  Karen Aldana, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Rolls Out Upgraded 5-Star Vehicle Safety Ratings System, NHTSA, October 5, 2010, available at http://www.nhtsa.gov/PR/NHTSA-13-10.  To see how each make and model fared, see http://www.nhtsa.gov/PR/NHTSA-13-10 .