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DOT & NHTSA Announce Plans to Enhance Vehicle Safety Through Revamped 5-Star Safety Ratings Program

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At one point, vehicle safety in the United States was not only the envy of the industrialized world, but for all the world. In fact, the United States was the first country to introduce the then groundbreaking 5-star crash rating program back in 1978. The original program was designed to provide information to consumers so that they would be empowered to make wise decisions regarding vehicle safety for themselves and their family members. Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak explains. 

Multiple Major U.S. Auto Defects Have Undermined Public Trust in Regulators

However, in recent years, a number of embarrassing vehicle safety fiascos have plagued the auto industry and highway safety in the United States. Some of the blame for defects that were allowed to linger for a decade or more lies with the regulator’s deferential approach to the companies they were supposed to regulate. However, part of the blame also rests with automakers and parts suppliers who were less than forthcoming regarding auto defects and recalls.

Several years ago, Toyota’s unintended acceleration glitch became a hot topic. After years of investigation, it was determined that Toyota misled consumers and regulators regarding the nature of this defect. Toyota eventually paid a $1.2 billion fine to secure a deferred prosecution agreement.

At the beginning of 2014, the General Motors ignition switch defect exploded into the public consciousness. The defect involved at least 40 million vehicles and resulted in at least 124 deaths and 273 injuries. The defect was allowed to grow and become widespread because it lingered for more than a decade before exploding onto the scene. In fact, GM engineers uncovered evidence of the defect back in 2001 during pre-production testing of the Ion.

The last major vehicle safety recall debacle are the defective inflators making use of ammonium-nitrate produced by Takata. Like with the other defects, this issue could have been corrected much earlier in the process saving many lives, but Takata decided not to act despite having information regarding excessive internal pressure in its inflators as early as 2008 when 2001 Civics and Accords were recalled to address this problem. Despite this fact, Takata did not agree to a full recall until a November 2015.

New Tests Would Bring Crash Ratings Program into the Modern Era

Currently the 5-Star Crash ratings System (New Car Assessment Program) tests and analyzes the test results annually for new vehicles. The current program assesses performance and the vehicle’s occupant protection abilities for front, side, and roll over crashes and collisions. An overall rating, from 1 star to 5 stars, is then calculated from these test results. The Program also makes considerations regarding advanced features like lane departure warnings, rear-vision cameras, and forward collision warnings.

Changes the would update and bring the test into the modern era includes the fact that the 5-Star Rating will now include information garnered through crash avoidance testing and pedestrian protection testing. The pedestrian tests will determine whether vehicle designs adequately protect bystanders from injuries to their legs, torso, and head. Other new tests include:

• A new frontal crash test that detects how well a vehicle protects the drivers and passengers in an angled collision.
• The use of half-stars to provide more granularity in testing.
• New crash dummies that more accurately reflect real-world crashes. New tests will include Test device for Human Occupant Restraint (THOR) and WorldSID.
• A redesigned frontal crash barrier test that also assesses safety for vehicle occupants in the rear seat.
• The flexibility to redesign tests as new technology emerges.

The new program is hopefully another step in NHTSA’s move away from a deferential approach to regulation and towards one which holds auto manufacturers to account. NHTSA is currently seeking public comment on the proposal and will continue to do so for 60 days from December 8, 2015.

Injured in a car accident from an unsafe vehicle or recalled vehicle? Springdale personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak can help.

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