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Revamped Vehicle Rating Program Still Has Glaring Omissions

July 8, 2008 

Revamped Vehicle Rating Program Still Has Glaring Omissions

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen*

Improvements to the government’s automobile crash test information program, announced today, are good but don’t go far enough. It is disappointing that after Department of Transportation officials spent three years working to strengthen the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), they didn’t address any of the program’s most glaring omissions.

Starting with model year 2010, tests will include a new side pole test, which simulates a vehicle hitting a tree. In addition, the tests will use small female crash test dummies, rather than just men.

However, the program still doesn’t include a dynamic (real-world) rollover crash test to determine a vehicle’s safety in a rollover crash. This is extremely important given that rollover crashes are responsible for about one-third of all vehicle occupant fatalities each year. The program still lacks tests for vehicle performance in rear crashes and pedestrian crashes, and fails to test child safety restraints. Further, it lacks a compatibility rating, which would measure the disparity between the heights and aggressivity of vehicles on the road and is particularly important given all the tall, hulking SUVs on the roads. Finally, the government is wrongly retaining its star rating system, which is more confusing to people than a basic A through F grading system.

I established the NCAP program in 1979 while head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The idea was not only to provide safety information to vehicle purchasers but to push auto manufacturers to go beyond the basic safety standards when designing vehicles. The program has worked; in 1979, less than 30 percent of vehicles earned four or five stars; last year, 98 percent of vehicles got four or five stars.

In 2005, a Government Accountability Office report concluded that the NCAP program was out of date and needed to be revamped. Other countries have programs that have far surpassed ours; the programs in European Union, Japan and Australia are more comprehensive than NCAP and still will be after today’s improvements are instituted. By omitting so many valuable tests, the agency is missing a huge opportunity to quickly and easily boost safety.

* Joan Claybrook was NHTSA administrator from 1977-1981 and established the NCAP program.

Read a more detailed analysis of the new NCAP program.