The Checkout

Raising the Bar on Vehicle Testing

On the heels of Consumer Reports pushing the envelope on child safety seat testing, the Department of Transportation says it's looking to change testing standards for vehicles.

Apparently, it's gotten too easy for vehicles to score five stars on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's frontal and side crash tests.

According to Consumeraffairs.com, 87 percent of 2006 vehicles received four or five stars for side impact crashes and 95 percent earned top marks for frontal crashes. The concern is that with so many cars receiving similar ratings, they have lost meaning for consumers.

Other ratings you probably have seen come from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which has already come up with tougher crash tests.

NHTSA wants to change its testing regime by using smaller dummies to stand in for female drivers, raising speeds and making crash barriers heavier to simulate larger vehicles. Oh, and it wants to wrap cars around poles.

I'm not kidding.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told Consumeraffairs.com: "Everyone knows the old adage 'wrapping the car around the telephone pole'...We want to re-create this kind of crash to show how side air bags can protect the driver's head during this type of crash."

Instead of the old star system, NHTSA plans to award letter grades to car manufacturers for adding hi-tech safety features such as electronic stability control.

IIHS and consumer advocates criticize NHTSA's plans for not going far enough. Public Citizen's Joan Claybrook, for one, would like to see the results of rollover crash tests that evaluate roof crush and passenger ejection included in rollover safety ratings.

They'll be able to have their say at a March 7 public meeting in Washington on the proposed standards.

What do you think NHTSA should take into account as it develops new crash-test standards?

By Annys Shin |  January 11, 2007; 9:09 AM ET Consumer News
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Comments

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It's about time the testing was closer to real world crashes. How about including tests not only for wrapping a car round a pole, but also what happens when the car hits a pedestrian or a deer?
Crash testing in the US has lagged behind other parts of the world for a long time. Before buying a car last year we checked out the results of European testing (http://www.euroncap.com/) The doesn't work for some car from GM/Ford/etc since they don't sell the same models there. But for the European, Japanese, Korean and soon Chinese cars they are structurally the same the world over - cheaper to build them that way.

Posted by: SmallCarDriver | January 11, 2007 9:54 AM

Small cars should be tested using larger vehicles, since Americans have a love affair with SUV's.

SUV's and vans (all sizes) should be tested for roll-overs. Try not buckling the dummies in the rear seats - just like we see on the news. If the dummies are ejected the vehicle gets a lower grade. I have lost track of how many lawsuits I have seen on the news because somebody was ejected when a door opened during a roll-over and the back seat occupants were not wearing seatbelts. Of course, if the people weren't ejected they would just bounce around inside the vehicle like a ping-pong ball, so test for that too.

Once the grades are assigned, give tax credits for vehicles with an "A" or "B" and charge an extra tax for vehicles with a "D" or "F".

Posted by: SoMD | January 11, 2007 10:19 AM

Ho hum. Yes, raise the speeds on testing, but to what, 40 mph instead of 30 or 35? In the meantime, continue to allow car companies to set the speed governors (which control the max speed of the vehicle) at anywhere between 100 and 160 mph, and continue to allow states to set their speed limits at up to 80. While you're at it, continue to allow everyone to talk on their cell phones, text message, and watch DVDs while they drive. Continue to allow truck drivers to lie about their log books and drive 18 hours (or more) at a stretch and fall asleep at the wheel, wiping out entire families in the process. Yes, it all sounds very scientific to me. 43,000 dead and 5 million injured annually on our roads? What a surprise!!

Lisa Lewis
Director
The Partnership for Safe Driving

Posted by: lisa | January 11, 2007 10:55 AM

Lisa: You go, Girl! What about testing the drivers of SUVs, like the Expedition, Suburban, and Escalade (which sells at $54,000 and up) to see if they can handle these vehicles. How about setting the age of driving these abominations to at least 21 with 5 years of experience behind the wheel. Have you noticed a lot of fatal crashes with inexperienced drivers in those things, usually after a night of partying? They were built for invading Third World countries, not for general commuting and running weekend errands. Most vehicles are about as safe as they can be, it's the nut behind the wheel that makes them unsafe. I don't buy a car for the safety rating, I buy it for the price, fuel efficiency, and dependability. I buckle up, don't drink and drive, and I certainly don't talk on a cell phone. My full attention is on the road and the only accident I've had in nearly 40 years of driving is when an uninsured drive sideswiped me in a snowstorm.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 11, 2007 11:20 AM

Change the safety standards because many companies are meeting the requirements??? That is absurd!! That just means either the car companies met the standards or the standards were set too low. I'm betting the standards were set too low.

Posted by: UFO (Unidentified Flying Opinion | January 11, 2007 12:50 PM

"I don't buy a car for the safety rating, I buy it for the price, fuel efficiency, and dependability."
Clearly you live in a suburb or the city. If your knowledge of car crashes is limited to drunken teens in SUVs on the news, perhaps you should stick to subjects you know more about. I live in an area where the roads surrounding me are major interstates. I was in an accident this summer (no, I wasn't driving, and the 23-year-old driver with 7 years of experience was not drunk, on drugs, or using a cell phone). We were T-boned by a pick-up truck on the drivers' side at an intersection. My Ford Explorer was flipped onto its side by the impact (not by being an SUV). If it hadn't flipped on its side, the driver would likely have been killed, as the flip absorbed some of the shock. According to the IIHS, the larger your car is, the more likely you are to survive a crash. According to three different ER nurses, I was lucky I wasn't in a smaller car or we probably would have been killed. As it was, the driver was in the hospital for a week due to a concussion and his only permanent damage consists of scars, primmarily a large red one on his cheek (that apparently still hurts a little, six months later) and a smaller one covering his entire left eyelid. I was treated and released from the ER that day, although I had to have plastic surgery later to have glass removed from my face, scalp, and arms. It is far better than being dead. I'm so glad they are plannning to up the standards. I only hops they make them even tougher than they seem to be planning. While it would be really nice if everyone could take public transport and drive their Priuses only when absolutely necessary (I actually do support that, cars are by nature dangerous), we have to deal with reality, and I am really glad that the NHTSA is stepping up to the plate. I wish they had done it before my high school friend was killed by a tired trucker.

Posted by: vim876 | January 11, 2007 1:53 PM

NHTSA is not stepping up the plate on tired truckers. Quite the contrary, under Bush the agency has actually made it easier for truck drivers to drive even longer hours and fall asleep at the wheel. And there is not a single passenger car on the roads today that is built to withstand the impact of a crash with an 18-wheeler even at very low speeds. That's why this crash testing is for the birds.

Lisa Lewis
Director
The Partnership for Safe Driving

Posted by: Lisa | January 11, 2007 2:16 PM

Lisa Lewis,

How did the "agency under Bush" do that?

Posted by: UFO (Unidentified Flying Opinion | January 11, 2007 2:24 PM

Way ta go Lisa. I was wondering how long it would take before somebody tried to take a cheap shot at Bush.

FYI: The 18-wheelers have a blind spot on the right side that has been there since day 1. Every 18-wheeler on the road has a sign on the back telling drivers they have a blind-spot and are unsafe to be on the road, so just "stay out of my way". Your buddies Carter and Clinton did absolutely nothing to require this major design flaw to be corrected either, so get off your slanted political bandwagon and give us some concrete solutions that will work. All you've posted here are complaints, which is not helping solve the problem. If you are not going to be part of the solution, you ARE the problem.

It is way past time for both parties (notice I said BOTH) stop the petty bickering and fix what is wrong.

Posted by: SoMD | January 11, 2007 2:28 PM

Dang Southern I usually would agree with you but this time I do not. Some of us young folk are responsible. My first vehicle was a 1989 Lincoln Town Car, which is about as big a vehicle you can find on the road- as long as a short limo. I drove it for a number of years and never got in an accident. If I had done so I would have been safe as it was made out of fairly SOLID metal. Older cars are even more solid. I could whip that car into the tightest spaces and maneuver it in places smaller cars would crawl through. My age had nothing to do with it. It was all about superior coordination and awareness of my vehicle's dimensions.
My biggest pet peeve was learning I could manage multi-million dollar programs, fight and die for my country, but when I flew home to visit my family I could not rent a car till I turned 25... Descrimination is wrong. Yes some young people are not responsible, but there are plenty of old people that should not be behind the wheel either who refuse to be responsible enough to admit they are no longer as coordinated. I have never been the driver in an accident, but was a passenger when an old lady sped through a stop sign and plowed into us despite us blasting the horn and slamming on breaks. She even turned into us to hit the front right corner of the car! I will not however make a sweeping generalization and say all old people are not able to drive!
For the rest of what you said, cars are NOT made about as safe as possible these days. Having spoke with people in the industry they told me they actually test for the lowest quality materials they can get away with using because they are CHEAPER! Your safety is no concern except as another meaningless marketing ploy. This is why when you close the door on and old car there is a solid THUNK. Newer vehicles are made out of thin cheap materials that are not strong at all. Safety is an illusion- Even in SUVs the skins just are not as thick as you would hope.

Posted by: Chris | January 11, 2007 2:37 PM

Dear SoMD:

Did you hear me applaud Clinton for anything? Clinton did probably the stupidest thing for highway safety in 30 years when he repealed the National 55 mph speed limit. And he did it for no other reason than to try to be more popular, which as far as I can tell was and is his only motivation in life. I actually wrote an entire book about solutions to the road safety crisis in America. You can learn more about it on our website. And yes, there is a blind spot for truck drivers. But that is only one of many problems contributing to the slaughter by truck drivers of thousands of people on the roads each year. The biggest problems are speeding, distracted driving and fatigue. And Bush actually made the fatigue problem worse by increasing the number of hours allowed behind the wheel for truck drivers, after multiple studies had shown they should be decreased, not increased. His administration has also refused all requests to monitor truck driving hours with something other than paper logs kept by the truck drivers themselves, which they refer to as "comic books" because everyone knows that many truck drivers lie about their hours in their log books.

Lisa Lewis
Director
The Partnership for Safe Driving

Posted by: Lisa | January 11, 2007 2:39 PM

I suppose Lisa has a wonderful way to pay for monitoring devices for truck drivers to replace paper logs. I wonder what that is.

Posted by: John | January 11, 2007 2:46 PM

The monitoring devices are not expensive at all. That is not the problem with them. The problem with them is that they would force companies and drivers to comply with Hours of Service laws. And they don't want to do that. That's the only problem with monitoring devices.

There are so many nasty people here. No wonder our country can't make any progress on anything.

Lisa Lewis
Director
The Partnership for Safe Driving

Posted by: Lisa | January 11, 2007 2:59 PM

No one says you have to live here, or even participate in this conversation, Lisa.

Things cost money.

I understand safety first. However safety applies to everyone. Not just truck drivers. You're quick to point out trucks being the problem, but you don't address the 1000 of other problems out there. Mostly with drivers of cars and SUV's

Posted by: Frank | January 11, 2007 3:10 PM

I just wanted to say that yes, the ratings system should change if nearly every car is receiving 4 or 5 stars. It's just not possible, and is meaningless, to rate nearly every vehicle as "above average."

Posted by: Grant | January 11, 2007 3:35 PM

Frank,

Please refer to our web site to see that our organization does address the full range of dangerous driving problems, not just dangerous trucking. I will continue to participate in this discussion for the sake of trying to reach those (unfortunately) few people who are actually open-minded and interested in learning something new.

Lisa Lewis
Director
The Partnership for Safe Driving

Posted by: Lisa | January 11, 2007 3:41 PM

There are apparently two of us from the boonies posting today. I am 'Southern Maryland' the other person is 'SoMD.' Don't get us confused with each other. Further, I NEVER, under any circumstances, post anything about politics. I consider politicians in the same category as used car salesmen, lawyers, slight of hand artists, BS artists, perverts and snakes. 8-) We were raised to never discuss the Big 4 in public -- sex, money, politics, or religion. They are all very personal topics and civil people don't discuss them.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 11, 2007 4:01 PM

Sorry Southern. :P I guess there are more than one of you, just as there is more than one person named Chris. BTW, I was actually thinking about getting into politics, but as I am too honest, have other people's interests at heart, do not have the money, and do not know where to start, I probably would not make it... otherwise, I would love to make a difference. LOL

Posted by: Chris | January 12, 2007 8:09 AM

Happy Friday and Back at Ya, Chris ;-)
Speaking of politicians, we had a local first-time pol running in an election this fall whose platform was 'common sense and decency.' Naturally, he lost. I always wanted to be a nurse, or maybe a social worker. When I retire I want to go back to community college for the nursing program. Social work is very rewarding, too, except in the salary category. I don't know how they do it. Masters Degree in Social Work required for even the most meager paycheck. No wonder the profession is hurting. I do a lot of volunteer work for my special 'causes' which is a lot of fun, very rewarding, and you meet some great people. Chris, find a special cause to be passionate about (but keep your day job) and let your heart lead you. Politicians be damed -- you're much better than they are. You make a living by what you earn, but you make a life by what you give.

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