Point-of-Sale Labeling

Safety Labels Needed to Inform Consumers At the Time and Place of Purchase

While federal and state regulations can go a long way toward protecting the auto buying public; an educated consumer can close the loop and truly make companies accountable for the safety of their vehicles. Some passenger vehicles are clearly safer than others, but safety information about specific vehicles can be difficult to obtain. Point-of-sale labeling would require auto manufacturers to label the safety of vehicles in the showroom, enabling consumers to compare the results of government and industry safety tests.

Auto companies voluntarily disclose only minimal safety information at the point of sale. For example, despite recent media reports about the dangers of certain air bags to women and children, consumers cannot choose a vehicle based on how the air bag is designed (i.e., by looking at safety factors such as the power and speed of inflation, whether and where the air bag is tethered) or how it has performed in tests with smaller occupants, because such information is not generally publicly available.

Currently, some limited information is available regarding crash test results performed under NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), although only 40 vehicles are tested by the agency each year. However, even these crash test results have a limited effect because the data are available only on the NHTSA Web site over the Internet, and are not posted in dealer showrooms. Dissemination is therefore restricted to those consumers who have access to a computer, are aware of NHTSA’s NCAP, and are interested in purchasing one of the vehicles tested by NHTSA for that model year.

NHTSA has the authority to require point-of-sale labeling, but has been reluctant to use it without any specific statutory command from Congress to do so. Manufacturers already perform extensive safety tests in order to certify vehicles as in compliance with federal safety standards. NHTSA should inform and empower consumers by requiring that manufacturers do safety testing and post results of the test on the vehicle window at the point-of-sale.