NHTSA preps major changes to US crash tests

NHTSA hasn't shared proposed updates, but the administration is aiming to make its safety ratings easier to understand and more relevant in an ever-changing automotive landscape.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
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SMASH! This is the last thing any driver wants to experience, but it's reassuring to know almost every modern vehicle is supremely safe.

Steven Pham/Roadshow

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday announced it could significantly alter its New Car Assessment Program in the coming years. The government agency wants to make its this crash-test regimen more proactive and relevant, it said.

The automotive industry is one of the most dynamic in the world. Things are constantly changing, especially in the area of occupant safety. New driver-assistance aids and collision-prevention systems are always being introduced, like those found in the Sensing suite, which is offered on numerous models in the automaker's lineup, including the Civic small car. 

The availability and efficacy of these features are not often reflected in a vehicle's crash-test rating, however. To keep pace, NHTSA is proposing alterations to its test procedures, looking into updated crash dummies, considering changes to vehicle labeling and exploring other technologies.

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Specifics are few and far between at this time, but NCAP could be expanded to take new pedestrian- and cyclist-protecting features into account in future ratings. As it stands, the organization's famous five-star system clearly illustrates how safe a given vehicle is, but changes could be coming to this old standby to keep it relevant.

NCAP has been around for 40 years and over the last four decades it's helped save countless lives. "American car buyers want safety, and NHTSA wants to help by creating additional market-based incentives for automakers to continue investing in innovative safety technologies that will save lives and prevent injuries," said NHTSA's acting administrator James Owens in a statement.

While there's no specific changes to report right now, a Federal Register Notice is being worked on for 2020. This will request comment on specific upgrades to NCAP. Roadshow reached out to NHTSA but it didn't immediately return our request for further comment.

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