A crash test dummy's head hits the airbag in a Ford 2014 Explorer XLT during a head on 30 mile per hour crash test at the company's Crash Barrier Facility and Safety Laboratory at Ford's Proving Grounds in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.
Photograph by Jeff Kowalsky — Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Jonathan Chew
December 9, 2015

A major overhaul for car safety tests could be on the way, with regulators requiring automakers to improve technologies that avoid crashes and pedestrians, and to add additional tests for new vehicles to earn a better rating.

Other proposed changes include the implementation of better, “more human-like” crash test dummies with more robust data collection that assesses the impact a crash has on the body, the Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday in a 195-page proposal called the “New Car Assessment Program” that updates its five-star rating system.

“The changes provide more and better information to new-vehicle shoppers that will help accelerate the technology innovations that save lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. The National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) Administration plans to implement these changes in the 2019 model year.

Currently, cars are rated on a scale of one to five stars—with more stars indicating a safer car—based on their performance in crash-tests and how well they protect occupants in frontal, side, and rollover crashes. Any additional features that enhance safety, such as rear-visibility cameras, are also mentioned.

In the new system, that single scorecard is replaced by a new ratings system that presents safety information around three major areas—crashworthiness, crash avoidance, and pedestrian protection.

The accent on technology is one of the big changes, and regulators intimate that future vehicles that don’t incorporate avoidance-based technologies could receive a lower rating, concerning manufacturers. “Our priority will be to focus on information that is based on scientific evaluations and real-world data that is most meaningful to consumers,” a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that represents carmakers such as General Motors and Toyota, told the Wall Street Journal.

The emphasis on crash and pedestrian avoidance technologies also bodes well for vehicles that already include these features, such as Google’s self-driving car and Tesla’s new autopilot feature.


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