Maryland Auto Accident Update: NHTSA’s Revised Passenger Car Safety Ratings Look to Improve Occupant Safety

As Maryland auto injury attorneys serving individuals in cities such as Baltimore, Cumberland and Frederick, MD, as well as Washington, D.C., I and my colleagues look forward to a day when serious injuries and deaths from traffic-related accidents are a thing of the past. While that day may be well off, constant improvements in vehicle design and constantly evolving government safety regulations indicate some progress.

Because tens of thousands of people are killed on this nation’s roadways every year, there is always room for improvement. The cost from traumatic brain and spinal injuries sustained during a car crash can be astronomical for a family of limited means. Not only is medical care expensive, the cost to a family when one of the primary wage earners is laid up for an extended period can be financially devastating.

Protecting the occupants of a motor vehicle that is involved in a traffic collision on an expressway, country road or city street is the job of that motor vehicle’s passenger restraint system, as well as other safety components located throughout the car or truck. Granted, there’s a big difference in the protection offered by a car, SUV or minivan than what is provided to a motorcyclist involved in a similar road accident, but those occupants in a passenger car are still at risk nonetheless.

Recent changes in the 5-star safety ratings set fourth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may help to increase the level of protection that motor vehicle passengers can expect in the future. According to news reports,

Starting with 2011 models, new vehicle crash tests will likely make drivers and passengers alike feel safer and more secure when traveling in new cars. Based on reports, the new crash evaluation criteria include an enhanced 5-Star Safety Ratings System for new vehicles. The new testing now includes a side pole crash test and evaluation of in-vehicle crash prevention technologies. The latest criteria also marks the first use of female crash test dummies are to be used in crash scenarios.

As in the past, vehicles are rated from on a scale of one to five stars (one being lowest and five the highest). Under the old NHTSA guidelines, many vehicles received the maximum, 5-star rating, however that will likely change with the new system now in place. This is reportedly because the new standards are much more strict. In fact, many previous 5-star rated vehicles are likely to drop in the rankings under the new system.

For example, the new rating system evaluates the safety of passenger cars, SUVs, vans and pickups, which will be tested in three areas: frontal crash, side crash and resistance to rollover). Starting with the 2011 model year, the NHTSA is expected to rate 24 passenger cars, 20 SUVs, a couple vans and nine pickup trucks.

The new rating system is designed to better evaluate future vehicle models, which will likely have increasingly sophisticated safety technologies built in. These safety systems may include electronic stability control as well as lane departure and forward collision warnings.

In addition to the new rating criteria, the NHTSA will now include an “Overall Vehicle Score.” This is reportedly one of the most significant revisions to the government’s safety rating program. The overall score combines the results of the three frontal crash test, side crash tests and rollover resistance tests and then compares that result to the average injury risk as well as rollover potential of other tested vehicles.

NHTSA Implementing Upgraded 5-Star Vehicle Safety Ratings System,, December 5, 2010

Contact Information