January 05, 2006


NHTSA has published a notice in the Federal Register rejecting recommendations by the Government Accountability Office that it revise its New Car Assessment Program to improve ratings information. In April, in a report to Congress entitled Vehicle Safety: Opportunities Exist to Enhance NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program, GAO noted that while NCAP has been successful in encouraging manufacturers to make safer vehicles and providing information to consumers, it has reached a crossroads where it will need to change to maintain its relevance.

The usefulness of the current tests has been eroded by the growing number of larger pickups, minivans, and sport utility vehicles in the vehicle fleet since the program began. In addition, NCAP scores have increased to the point where there is little difference in vehicle ratings. As a result, the program provides little incentive for manufacturers to further improve safety, and consumers can see few differences among new vehicles. Opportunities to enhance the program include developing approaches to better measure the interaction of large and small vehicles and occupant protection in rollovers, rating technologies that help prevent crashes, and using different injury measures to rate the crash results. NHTSA also has opportunities to enhance the presentation and timeliness of the information provided to consumers.

In October, NHTSA issued a request for comments on possible plans to improve the ratings program along the lines suggested by GAO. According to NHTSAs new notice , a review of comments indicated that there is no single prevailing opinion as to the future direction that should be pursued in revising the frontal NCAP. While Public Citizen and the Advocates [for Highway Safety] favored an increase in the test speed, the auto companies and IIHS were all opposed. Incorporation of an offset frontal test was favored by a number of the commenters, including the IIHS, but several auto manufacturers raised various concerns. Likewise, most comments did not favor changing the star rating limits, although Public Citizen did recommend revisions to increase the stringency of the star ratings. There were also widely divergent views regarding incorporation of different dummies into the frontal NCAP test program. One area in which there seemed to be some agreement was in support of adding more injury measures to the rating system.

NHTSA added that further research and analysis is needed to establish a new frontal NCAP that complements existing FMVSS and drives the market towards improved safety for frontal occupant protection without unintended consequences. Accordingly, we will conduct the additional analyses necessary for the development of a new frontal rating program.

Posted by MVHAP at January 5, 2006 11:40 AM