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Transportation Department Toughens Vehicle Safety-Ratings System

The U.S. Department of Transportation Tuesday unveiled a more rigorous safety-ratings system for vehicles, one that will use “female” crash dummies in tests, as well as evaluate side-pole crashing and crash-prevention technologies like electronic stability control (ESC).

The updated system will make it much harder for automakers to achieve the “Five-Star” ratings that they have in the past, but this system does seem like it will be more meaningful and accurate for consumers, especially women.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator David Strickland unveiled the “enhanced Five-Star Safety Ratings System” for new vehicles and released the safety ratings for the first model year 2011 vehicles tested under the program.

Safety officials stressed that for the first time, the ratings system will use female crash test dummies to simulate crash scenarios involving women, not just men. The new system will also simulate hitting a pole on the driver’s side. 

“More stars equal safer cars,” LaHood said in a press release. “With 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.”

Vehicle safety ratings range from one to five stars, with one star being the lowest and five stars the highest.

“Because so many vehicles had reached the highest rating under the old rating criteria, and because the new standards are much more rigorous, not all previously rated five-star vehicles will remain at five stars,” the transportation department bluntly said in its press release.

The new Five-Star Safety Ratings System evaluates the safety of passenger cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks in three broad areas — frontal crash, side crash and rollover resistance.

For model year 2011, NHTSA will rate 24 passenger cars, 20 sport utility vehicles, two vans and nine pickups under the new ratings system.

“We want consumers to embrace these new safety technologies as a way to make vehicles safer,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in the press release. “We believe electronic stability control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning offer significant safety benefits and consumers should consider them when buying a new car.”

One biggest changes to the ratings program is the addition of an Overall Vehicle Score for each vehicle tested.

“The Overall Vehicle Score combines the results of a frontal crash test, side crash tests and rollover resistance tests and compares those results to the average risk of injury and potential for vehicle rollover of other vehicles,” the transportation department press release said.

NHTSA recommends consumers consider vehicles with crash avoidance technologies that meet the five-Star Safety Ratings minimum performance tests, not only ESC but also forward collision warning (FCW) and lane departure warning (LDW).

All of the 2011 model year vehicles currently rated have ESC as standard, except for the Nissan Versa, in which it is optional.

Both The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the new safety-ratings system in articles Wednesday.

The Times pointed out that in the new rankings the BMW 5 series sedans and the Hundai Sonata sedan won overall vehicle scores of five stars.,0,6113329.story

The Journal story, headlined “Crash Tests Dent Car-Safety Scores,” stressed the fact that automakers will have fewer five-star ratings to boast about in their ads.

More information, including the full list of newly rated vehicles is available at the official website for the federal government’ Five-Star Safety Ratings Program,


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