Feds Mull 'Silver' Vehicle Safety Rating for Seniors, New Tests for EVs


  • Senior Driving Safety Picture

    Senior Driving Safety Picture

    Federal safety regulators are considering a "silver" safety rating that will help older shoppers make smart car purchases. | April 05, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may create a "silver" safety rating for how well vehicles protect older occupants in crashes.
  • Inflatable seatbelts or technologies that help prevent low-speed pedal misapplication may have potential benefits for older occupants, said NHTSA in a Federal Register posting on Thursday.
  • The agency also is looking into new test procedures for electric vehicles and may study how rear-seat passengers and pedestrians fare in crashes, the posting said.

WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may create a "silver" safety rating for how well vehicles protect older occupants in crashes. Inflatable seatbelts or technologies that help prevent low-speed pedal-misapplication may have potential benefits for older occupants, said NHTSA in a Federal Register posting on Thursday.

"As the U.S. population shifts in coming years, more vehicle drivers and passengers will be 65 and older," the posting noted. "Typically, older vehicle occupants are less able than younger occupants to withstand crash forces when they are involved in a crash. Therefore, the agency is conducting workshops and developing comprehensive vehicle and behavioral strategies to improve older driver crash protection."

NHTSA also said it is looking into new test procedures for electric vehicles and may study how rear-seat passengers and pedestrians fare in crashes, the posting said.

With regard to electric vehicles, the posting said: "The agency is focused on understanding the potential safety risks stemming from crashes involving these vehicles." It plans to study the potential safety hazards associated "with the health, stability and functionality of the battery system after a vehicle is involved in a crash."

Of particular concern are the lithium-ion batteries used in some electric vehicles.

"Because Li-ion battery technology is relatively new to the automotive industry, safety standards specific to the use of this technology in automotive applications are still under development," NHTSA said. "Although NHTSA is unaware of any real-world crashes involving Li-ion battery-powered vehicles that have resulted in a safety concern, the agency is focused on understanding the potential safety risks stemming from crashes involving these vehicles."

When it comes to rear-seat occupants, NHTSA said it is considering rear seatbelt reminders and further study on the safety of rear-seat passengers.

"There is an emerging need to further understand the rear seat environment in recent model year vehicles, particularly in consideration of lighter and more compact vehicle designs," it said.

Federal safety regulators say they are also concerned about pedestrian protection, noting that pedestrian fatalities and injuries from motor vehicle crashes remain "a relatively high number in the United States." Pedestrian deaths accounted for 13 percent of all traffic fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2010.

NHTSA is looking into future pedestrian crashworthiness requirements, especially for bumpers and hoods.

Finally, NHTSA plans to conduct research on the design and use of the Monroney label: the familiar window sticker on new vehicles.

"The agency will explore where consumers look for safety information and how consumers use the Monroney label when making their vehicle purchasing decisions," it said.

NHTSA also may incorporate advanced crash-protection features, such as lane-departure warning systems, into its five-star ratings.

Edmunds says: This ambitious review eventually may provide consumers with more safety information when it comes to shopping for vehicles.

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