NHTSA NCAPIf you’re like us, one of your main questions when buying a car is, “What’s the safety rating?” We know that the ratings can’t tell us everything about a vehicle, but a good crash-test performance can help put our minds at ease.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government agency that oversees the 5-Star/New Car Assessment Program, recently proposed significant changes to the rating system. The proposed changes include taking into consideration crash-avoidance systems like lane departure warnings and automatic emergency braking. Technology has improved significantly since the rating system was introduced in the 1970s (heck, even in the past few years), and NHTSA feels it’s time to focus on crash avoidance, not just crash mitigation.

The proposed changes include:

  • Crash avoidance systems
  • How well vehicles protect pedestrians
  • A frontal oblique test to determine how well the vehicle protects an angled crash
  • An improved full frontal barrier test to improve safety for rear-seat passengers
  • New, improved crash test dummies
  • Half-star increments
  • The ability to make changes to the program more quickly in the future, as the need arises

NHTSANHTSA has not yet determined how much weight each category will carry. They’re currently in the midst of a 60-day public comment period, so if you have opinions, now is the time to express them! They expect the final rule on the new testing to occur by the end of 2016, and they expect the testing to be ready in time for 2019 model-year vehicles.

It’s too early to say how the new testing will play out, but one possibility is that crash-avoidance systems, often only available on higher-end models or as costly options, might become standard (hopefully without too much of an increase in price). It should also put more of an emphasis on improving back-seat safety, something that’s taken a…well…back seat as manufacturers have focused on making front seats safer.

Overall, it’s good to see the NHTSA recognizing and trying to keep up with advances in technology and safety. Now if we could just get them to update the child restraint test sled…