October 6, 2010 in Nation/World

New auto-safety standards emphasize crash prevention

Jerry Hirsch Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood speaks Tuesday during a news conference announcing a new 5-star vehicle safety rating system.
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES – The Transportation Department revealed its new safety rating system Tuesday, adding improvements such as testing “female” crash dummies for the first time to simulate scenarios involving women, and evaluating side pole crashes and crash-prevention technologies.

The department, and its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also now issues an “overall vehicle score” that combines the results of a frontal crash test, side crash tests and rollover resistance tests. It compares the results to the average risk of injury and potential for vehicle rollover of other vehicles.

The vehicle safety ratings range from one to five stars, with one star being the lowest and five stars the highest. Under the old system, many vehicles had reached the highest rating, and those that didn’t still landed a high four-star score, according to auto information company Edmunds.com.

But because the new standards are more rigorous, some vehicles will see their scores fall, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

“Through new tests, better crash data and higher standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers,” he said.

The emphasis on crash-prevention technologies should also direct shoppers to safer vehicles, said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland.

“We believe electronic stability control, lane departure warning and forward collision warning offer significant safety benefits, and consumers should consider them when buying a new car,” Strickland said.

In the latest rankings, the BMW 5 series sedan and the Hyundai Sonata sedan both received overall vehicle scores of five stars, while the Nissan Versa got only two and was particularly vulnerable in side crash tests, according to safety regulators. Consumers can see the full list of newly rated vehicles at www.safercar.gov/.

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