Sun | Jan 20, 2019

US increases safety standards

Published:Saturday | December 12, 2015 | 11:06 PM
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx with new crash test dummies called 'THOR'.


The US Government announced on Tuesday plans to update its safety rating system for new cars and trucks, to include whether the vehicle has technology to avoid crashes in addition to how well it protects occupants in accidents.

The five-star rating system now uses crash tests to assess how well people inside are shielded from injury or death in front, side and rollover crashes.

While that will remain a big factor in the ratings, they also will take into account whether the vehicle has nine technologies that can help prevent or lessen the severity of crashes. Those technologies include sensors that can detect an imminent frontal collision and apply the brakes or warn drivers about vehicles in their blind spots or that they're drifting into another lane.

Some technologies automatically switch headlight high beams to low beams when another vehicle is approaching, help prevent rollovers and employ amber rear turn signal lights that drivers are quicker to identify as indicating a turn rather than braking.

In addition, the ratings will include a new type crash test designed to simulate cars that collide at an angle. Crash tests will also use improved crash-test dummies that better represent how accidents impact the human body. And the rating system will reward cars designed to protect pedestrians who are struck by them.

"We're going to raise the bar when it comes to protecting vehicle occupants," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The department's goal, Foxx said, is to ultimately prevent crashes altogether. He said he's hopeful that will happen in his lifetime.

The rating system posts a rating of one to five stars on the window stickers of new cars to help shoppers identify the safest vehicles. The new system will also include half stars as well as full stars to get at nuances in safety features, said Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which administers the ratings system. For example, a vehicle might get a half star for technology that automatically warns drivers of an impending frontal collision but a whole star if the system automatically applies the brakes, he said.

The changes proposed for the system are subject to a 60-day public comment period and final rules are to be issued next year. Consumers would begin seeing the new ratings on cars in model year 2019.

The new crash dummies will have over 100 sensors, including four in the rib cage, while current dummies have only 50 or 60 sensors and just one in the rib cage, NHTSA officials said. The dummies also reflect more recent knowledge of how injuries occur, they said.

An estimated 17 million new cars and trucks are expected to be sold this year. Traffic fatalities dropped in 2014 to less than 33,000, but data from the first half of this year indicates they are increasing steeply again as the economy continues to improve and the price of gasoline drops.