WASHINGTON — The federal government is considering major changes to the five-star safety ratings system to better aid car shoppers in making smart decisions about new-vehicle purchases.
"The improved ratings systems would provide an overall star rating and individual star ratings for crashworthiness, crash avoidance and pedestrian protection categories," said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "This means NHTSA's five-star safety ratings will reflect more vehicle safety attributes than ever before."
The changes reflect the rapid introduction of new-vehicle technology and the need to provide consumers with the most up-to-date information.
The current ratings are displayed on the Monroney label or window stickers of new vehicles and are posted on NHTSA's website. The updates to the five-star safety ratings are expected to debut in 2018 beginning with 2019 model-year vehicles and newer vehicles built on or after January 1, 2018.
The changes to the way the federal government crash-tests cars and rates vehicles are calculated to put it on a par with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Safety advocates contend that the Institute conducts more rigorous testing than the federal government today.
NHTSA said it wants to add a new frontal oblique offset crash test that measures how well vehicles protect occupants in an angled crash.
"Frontal oblique crashes continue to result in deaths and serious injuries despite seatbelt use, airbags and crashworthy structures of late-model vehicles," NHTSA said.
The agency also wants a new rating for crash avoidance and advanced technology systems that will be based on whether a vehicle is equipped with one or more of nine types of technologies and the performance of those technologies.
Future ratings may also include a new "pedestrian five-star rating" that will be based on how well vehicles minimize injuries and fatalities to pedestrians.
The new testing will allow for half-star ratings, also designed to provide consumers with more information as they make their decisions.
The federal government is also developing new crash dummies called "Thor" that better measure how much protection vehicle occupants get in a crash.
NHTSA's proposals now go out for 60 days of public comment.
Edmunds says: In the meantime, NHTSA reassures car shoppers that vehicles rated under the current five-star safety rating system are still safe.