Auto makers used to revel in, and prominently advertise, the 5-star crash test safety ratings they routinely received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"). Those ratings encompassed performance standards achieved in gauging safety in front and side impact tests, as well as resistance to and stability in a vehicle rollover.
Those tests were too easy, say NHTSA officials, and undermined any strong incentive for car manufacturers to progressively improve safety standards. Moreover, the litany of stars earned in the various tests confused consumers.
The government has now substantially modified things. "With our upgraded Five-Star Safety Ratings System, we're raising the bar on safety," says Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood.
New tests are now challenging auto makers, and the NHTSA has made it harder to earn a top score. Additionally, the agency has done away with multiple designations; now a vehicle receives a single score that encompasses how it performed across the entire battery of tests. The NHTSA believes that the single overall star rating will be appreciated by potential buyers.
In previous crash results, many tested models received the highest possible marks. That is certainly not the case now; in the results from the initial go-round of testing under the new standards, only two cars out of 33 tested received a 5-star rating.
The government thinks that the new stringency will put car companies on notice to up the ante on research and development and to simply work harder to make their products safer.
The NHTSA states that it will test and rate 55 2011 car models.