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How safe is your vehicle? To answer that question, you may have referred to your vehicle’s safety rating. The 5-star safety ratings program was created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) to give consumers needed information on crash protection, rollover safety, and other issues of concern beyond what manufacturers must reveal by law.

That ratings system may soon be undergoing changes, however. On December 8, 2015, the NHTSA proposed several new safety feature proposals that they would like to add to the five-star safety ratings.

NHTSA Plans Updates to Ratings System

According to a press release, the planned changes would improve the accuracy of the safety ratings by adding the following:

  • A new crash test that measures how well vehicles protect occupants in an angled frontal crash.
  • New tests to see how well vehicles protect pedestrians from head, leg, and pelvic injuries—based on tests that show whether a vehicle is equipped with automatic emergency braking and how well that braking works.
  • Improved full frontal barrier crash test that measures safety for rear seat occupants.
  • The use of new crash test dummies that provide better data on the effects of a crash on the human body, including injuries to chest, abdomen, lower spine, and brain.
  • New assessments of crash-avoidance advanced technologies, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lower beam headlights, amber rear turn signal lamps, semi-automatic headlamp beam switching, and lane departure warning and blind spot detection.
  • New half-star ratings to further differentiate the safety of varying vehicles.

The NHTSA also plans to implement changes that will allow them to more swiftly update the 5-star safety ratings program as new technologies emerge.

NHTSA Hopes to Encourage the Development of Safer Vehicles

The 5-star safety ratings program was initiated in 1978 to measure safety levels for vehicle occupants in frontal crashes. Since then, new tests and measurements have been added over the years to reflect additional safety efforts. Though other organizations offer safety ratings as well, the NHTSA’s program is the only one to rate rollover resistance, along with frontal and side safety in a crash.

The administration wants to update the program to “encourage the continuous advancement of vehicle safety,” and to help consumers make more informed decisions as to which vehicle to purchase. “Today,” stated NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind in the press release, “we’re adding to that legacy of global safety leadership, ensuring that American consumers have the best possible information about how to protect themselves and their families, and taking a significant step forward in our efforts to save lives and prevent injuries.”

Public comments are encouraged until the beginning of February, after which the NHTSA plans to analyze the comments and issue a final decision for the planned changes at the end of 2016. They expect that consumers will begin to see the new ratings by model year 2019 vehicles.

NHTSA’s Current Recommendations for Safety

The NHTSA currently recommends that consumers consider buying vehicles equipped with:

  • Rearview video systems
  • Forward collision warning
  • Lane departure warning
  • Automatic emergency braking technology (beginning with 2018 vehicles)

They also recommend purchasing vehicles with high ratings in rollover resistance, and frontal and side crash performance.

Consumers can find information on vehicle safety ratings at

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