Feds to include driver assistance technology in car safety ratings

Feds to include driver assistance technology in car safety ratings
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The Obama administration is moving to include driver assistance technologies that are designed to prevent car cashes in its rating system for measuring the safety of U.S. automobiles. 

The inclusion of new tests in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's New Car Assessment Program that measure technologies that are being built into modern cars to help them avoid crashes was mandated by the recently approved highway bill that was passed last week by lawmakers. 

NHTSA Administration Mark Rosekind said Tuesday that adjusting the star rankings will simplify auto purchases for U.S. drivers. 

"Since 1978, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 5-Star Safety Ratings have helped consumers buy vehicles that better protect them on the road," Rosekind wrote in a blog post on the transportation department's website. 

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"But, in a time when vehicle technologies advance at lightning speed, NHTSA must constantly innovate to stay ahead of the pace of change," Rosekind continued. "That’s why, today, we’ve announced a plan to revolutionize the way we crash-test cars and rate vehicles. Our goal --as always-- is to promote an even higher level of safety and put that knowledge to work for consumers." 

Lawmakers praised the Obama administration for moving quickly to implement the mandate shortly after the pasasage of the $305 billion highway bill. 

"When ideas in Congress serve as catalysts for positive change for American consumers, it’s a sign we’re doing our job on Capitol Hill," Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said in a statement.  

"I’m pleased to see NHTSA moving forward with a plan to modernize the New Car Assessment Program, as required by our Safety Through Informed Consumers Act, enacted as part of the transportation bill," Heller continued. "Incorporating active safety technologies into the program is a great step toward ensuring technologies to prevent crashes are prioritized just like the ones that protect you when an accident occurs."

House backers also applaued the includsion of assisted driving technology in the highway safety administration's car ranking system. 

“In a free market, informed consumers are one of the greatest drivers of advancement," Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) said in a statement. 

"This is a win for consumers and manufacturers because it increases transparency without mandating it," he continued. 

Safety groups and auto part manufacturers offered similar praised for the move to consider crash avoidance technologies in car safety ratings, saying the new system would promote safer vehicle purchases. 

"NHTSA’s proposal tricks out the 5-Star Safety Ratings by embracing technology as the big game-changer in saving lives," said National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman, who is herself a former highway safety administration chief. 

"The announcement comes at a critical time, as highway fatalities have spiked this year," Hersman continued. "The new ratings address technologies that can stem the carnage for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians on our roadways. Vince and Larry, the old crash test dummies, would be proud of the pivot from crash mitigation to embracing crash prevention."  

“Today’s announcement is a major step forward for motor vehicle safety. [Advanced Driver Assistance Systems] technologies have the potential to save nearly 10,000 lives annually, prevent 28 percent of all vehicle crashes and save consumers over $250 billion in societal costs per year when deployed broadly,” Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) President Steve Handschuh added, also in a statement. 

Rosekind said "the updated 5-Star Safety Ratings will include a new crash test to measure how well vehicles protect people in angled frontal crashes, and new, more human-like crash test dummies that better measure how much protection people get in a crash. 

"The ratings will, for the first time, fully include assessment of crash avoidance and advanced technologies designed to mitigate or prevent crashes from occurring at all," he continued. "And consumers will get this information in the familiar, easier to understand 5-Star Safety Ratings." 

The highway safety administrator added that driver assistance technologies are increasing the safety of U.S. roads.

"It's a terrific development for safety that technology is making our vehicles safer than ever," he said. "By improving our 5-Star Safety Ratings, we’ll make it even easier for consumers to shop for safety. And, we’ll better encourage automakers to deliver more advanced life-saving technologies in the cars and trucks we drive." 

Rosekind said the highway safety agency is planning to accept comments on the changes to car safety ranking system for the next 60 days. 

-This story was last updated with new information on Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m.