Government won't revise frontal crash test program

Monday, December 19th 2005, 6:43 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government has decided to maintain the testing and ratings system it uses to help consumers evaluate new automobiles in head-on collisions despite complaints that the program needs an upgrade.

The decision, to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, calls for keeping the current 35 mph test for frontal crashes and ratings procedure ``until we have established the sound science necessary to provide a basis for revising the program.''

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducts frontal and side crash tests on vehicles and rates them on a scale of one to five stars _ five stars represents the top score _ to help consumers judge how a vehicle handles a crash or its likelihood of rolling over.

A report by the Government Accountability Office in April said the government's crash test program, started in 1978, needed upgrades to remain relevant with the growth in popularity of sport utility vehicles and light trucks.

It noted that most vehicles receive four or five stars, making it difficult for consumers to compare safety attributes in vehicles. The GAO report also questioned whether the system gives automakers enough incentives to improve vehicle safety.

NHTSA said in making the decision that it would maintain the full-frontal barrier test procedure, the test speed of 35 mph and the current crash test dummies and rating system.

More research was needed, NHTSA said, to establish a new frontal system that complements current safety standards and ``drives the market towards improved safety for frontal occupant protection without unintended consequences.''

Potential changes had included increasing the testing speed to 40 mph, adding a variety of dummies to include a petite woman and children and adding another test, such as an offset test that focuses the impact on one side of the vehicle's front-end.

The government also considered changing the rating system to make it more difficult to earn five stars.

Jacqueline Gillan, vice president for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which had supported upgrades to the program, said the consumer program had always ``set the bar a little higher'' than the federal safety standard cars need to meet in order to be sold.

With recent changes to the safety standards that will require vehicles to be tested at 35 mph, an increase of 5 mph, it ``defeats the whole purpose'' of having a consumer program that tests above the compliance level, she said.

Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, said the industry supported more research and analysis of the data to find ways of improving the system.