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Transportation Department Toughens Standards for 5-Star Safety Rating System

As further evidence the new administration in Washington is taking a greater interest in consumer safety, the Transportation Department has toughened its safety standards for vehicle testing. Getting a coveted five-star rating is going to be considerably more difficult now. The hope is that this will spur manufacturers to improve the safety of their autos in order to get that top rating.

The Associated Press covered this development in a recent article. Here are excerpts:

The Transportation Department says upgrades to the 5-Star Safety Rating System will make it more difficult for new vehicles to earn top scores of five stars. Consumers use the “Stars on Cars” system to assess and compare vehicle safety values, which are posted on window stickers in dealer lots.

The 2011 BMW 5 Series and a version of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata were the only two vehicles out of an initial testing of 34 to receive five stars. Most tested vehicles received four stars. The department intends to test 21 more vehicles this year.

The Toyota Camry, the nation’s best-selling passenger car, received three stars overall and the compact Nissan Versa two, underscoring the challenges of the new system. Camrys from the 2010 model year received five stars in both front and side testing, while 2010 versions of the Versa got four stars in front and side testing.

The program, which evaluates vehicles on front- and side-impact crashes and rollovers, was started in 1979 and has helped generate interest in safety equipment such as side-impact air bags and anti-rollover technology. The government decided to revamp it for the 2011 model year because too many vehicles were getting top marks, making it difficult to distinguish between them.

The new system adds an overall score, uses different-size test dummies and takes into account crash-prevention technologies and a new test that simulates a crash into a pole or a tree. The overall score combines the results of front, side and rollover tests and compares those results with average risk of injury and rollover potential for other vehicles.

For the first time, the tests will include dummies representing women. The dummies also will collect data about more types injuries.

Consumers will not be able to compare the scores of a 2011 model year vehicle with those of a 2010 model because of the changes. The window sticker affixed to vehicles at dealerships will need to be redesigned and will not include the overall score until the 2012 model year.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

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