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Dec 14 2015

The NHTSA has been providing valuable crash testing ratings since 1978 that are based on front-impact crashes, side-impact crashes, and rollover resistance (added in 2011). In recent news, however, there could be some added categories to these crash test ratings.

According to an Automotive News article, federal regulators proposed the idea of adding scores for crash avoidance technology and pedestrian protection, as well as incorporating a new test that measures performance in a frontal offset crash (recently added by IIHS). Now that these life-saving technologies have been on the market a few years, it looks like they could soon be part of an industry-leading crash test rating provider's scoring system.

If the NHTSA decides to add these categories to their 5-Star Crash Test Ratings, there will be a number of changes taking place in the auto industry as a result. In this post, we've listed just a handful of changes that are likely to occur, based on suggestions from a few news resources and current auto industry trends and processes.

1. Increase in vehicle models with standard crash-avoidance/pedestrian safety equipment

Active and passive crash-avoidance systems and pedestrian protection are becoming more available as standard or optional equipment for most auto manufacturers. However, if the NHTSA decides to overhaul their rating system to incorporate crash-avoidance systems and pedestrian safety as additional rating categories, manufacturers without this equipment as standard will have a tough time getting a perfect rating. The Secretary General of Euro NCAP mentioned in an Automotive World article that after a five-year overhaul of their rating system, vehicles that once had a 5-star rating are now only 2 or 3 stars. We are likely to find more vehicle models with a number of these advanced safety technologies as standard equipment to achieve high safety ratings.  

2. Increase in vehicle prices

With advanced safety equipment as a standard option comes higher sticker prices. These advanced safety equipment options are not cheap and would more than likely require vehicle manufacturers to increase their prices to some degree. Hopefully, money saved in manufacturing costs by cutting down on the amount of optional safety equipment would offset some of the cost. 

3. An overhaul of other crash test programs

The NHTSA has already set the bar high for crash test ratings. If these proposed changes are pursued, other crash test rating providers, such as IIHS, would need to reevaluate their methods of testing to keep up with the NHTSA and the modern car's vehicle safety equipment. It's time that crash test rating organizations account for these newer vehicle safety features that are saving lives.

Side note: Fatalities from motor vehicle accidents have increased by 8.1 percent in the first half of 2015. However, sources have attributed the increase in fatalities to the increase in drivers on the road due to lower gas prices and higher vehicle sales. 

4. Vehicle safety better captured in shopping tools

Vehicle safety is important for many vehicle shoppers. However, aside from the OEM websites and a few other exceptions, safety ratings and safety equipment are not on the forefront of many online vehicle shopping resources. As crash test rating providers strive towards better reflecting today's advanced vehicle safety technologies, it's more likely that vehicle research sites highlight these crash test ratings in their search filters, vehicle overview and detail pages (VDPs).  

5. Crash test ratings playing a bigger role in insurance premiums

Currently, the vast majority of auto insurance providers factor in crash test ratings and vehicle safety options as part of their risk assessment. An overhaul of 5-Star Crash Test Ratings would allow the insurance providers to rely more on these ratings. Still, it would be necessary to check the installed safety equipment, as it's a good possibility that some advanced safety features will remain optional... especially if OEMs can obtain a perfect crash test rating score with the safety equipment they've standardized.

When would these changes take place?

As of now, the NHTSA is collecting public comments on the overhaul and won't make a decision until the end of 2016. They have settled on allowing half-star ratings, but are unsure how the scores would be weighted. If the NHTSA decides to move forward with the overhaul, it would be used on passenger vehicles in the 2019 model year.

In the meantime, these advanced safety features will continue to become more widely available. Maybe even more so since the NHTSA overhaul proposal and recently completed Euro NCAP overhaul. Hopefully, more vehicle research tools will start to reflect the importance of vehicle safety as well. As for the other likely changes, time will tell!

If you'd like to offer a better research experience for your site visitors, DataOne's PerfectFit Vehicle Shopper software and API allow shoppers to start their research by vehicle attributes --vehicle safety being one of the criteria options-- rather than traditional YMMT, price range, and zip code. You can learn more about the solution here.

We'd love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts about the proposed overhaul of NHTSA's 5-Star Crash Test Ratings in the comments section below.

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