When it comes to finding the perfect new car, consumers are motivated by very different factors. For some, the size of the vehicle's engine and its overall performance will play a major role, while for others it may be appearance and amenities. Still others will put significant stock in an automaker's reputation for reliability.
There is at least one factor, however, that every new car buyer will take into consideration regardless of their underlying interests: vehicle safety. To that end, many prospective buyers will look no further than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ratings to see how many stars a particular model earned on the agency's crash-worthiness test.
Interestingly enough, the NHTSA indicated just last week that it was proposing major updates to its current crash test standards, which have not been updated for several years.
What exactly is the NHTSA proposing?
The NHTSA is proposing three major changes to its test protocol. First, it is seeking to use newer and more advanced crash test dummies designed to do a better job of measuring injuries. Second, it is looking to introduce a new frontal oblique crash test to account for a serious and frequently deadly kind of angled crash. Third, and perhaps most significantly, it's seeking to overhaul how crash scores are calculated by considering not just crash worthiness, but also crash-avoidance systems and pedestrian safety.
How would the assessment of crash-avoidance systems work?
The proposal indicates that the agency would examine how well a vehicle makes use of nine crash avoidance technologies such as lane-departure warning systems, auto-braking systems and collision warning systems.
Does this mean vehicles would be assigned three scores going forward instead of just one?
No. Vehicles would still be assigned a single overall score (one to five stars), but it would be based on the scores earned in all three categories instead of just the one. It remains undetermined, however, how much weight the agency plans on assigning to each of the three categories.
When would this new system take effect?
According to the NHTSA, the new ratings system, which will not be applied retroactively, would take effect in the 2019 model year.
Why is the NHTSA even doing this?
The primary justification for this shift is that it accounts for technological advances and could spur automakers to start making more crash avoidance systems standard equipment in order to earn higher scores and, by extension, make more sales.
It's encouraging to see the NHTSA taking safety ratings to the next level. Here's hoping it results in more people walking away from car crashes or avoiding them altogether.
What are your thoughts? Are these changes past due or entirely unnecessary?