The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released information about its new five-star crash-test ratings for cars and trucks that promises tougher testing and lower test scores than we’ve seen in the past.
Today, we’ll tell you about the changes to the program. On Tuesday, our colleagues at Cars.com will have comprehensive coverage of the first cars, crossovers, SUVs and minivans tested by government under the program.
Perhaps the most difficult new test added to NHTSA’s existing side and frontal crash tests is the so-called pole test, which simulates a 20-mph side impact into a 10-inch-diameter pole at a 75-degree angle just behind the A-pillar on the driver’s side.
To measure the risk of injury across a wider portion of the U.S. population better, NHTSA will add different-sized crash-test dummies, including a small adult female and medium-size adult male, and will increase injury data collected from the head, chest and legs to include the neck and arms.
Also new is a single, overall score that combines the results of the front, side and rollover crash tests and compares the results to the average risk of injury in similar vehicles. Consumers will find the overall score added to the window stickers of 2011 model year cars and trucks.
Because NHTSA is using a new system with different testing conditions, test results from 2010 and earlier won’t be directly comparable to the new 2011 procedures.
NHTSA will also highlight vehicles that have standard and optional advanced crash-avoidance technology, such as lane departure, electronic stability control and forward collision warning gear. The electronics won’t be factored into a vehicle’s overall score, but they will be noted at NHTSA’s website, safercar.gov.
What hasn't changed?
NHTSA's rollover ratings continue to follow the same test and ratings methodology as before. The rollover rating estimates a vehicle's propensity to roll over, not the protection it provides when a rollover occurs. The star rating is based on a calculation of the vehicle's dimensions and center of gravity. The test subjects vehicles to a panic maneuver and reports whether it raises two wheels off the ground. The results supplement the star rating with a "tip" or "no-tip" notation.
NHTSA plans to test 55 2011 model year vehicles under the new system, including 24 passenger cars, 20 SUVs, two vans and nine pickup trucks. The pickup trucks include the Ram 1500 Quad Cab and crew cab; Ford F-150 SuperCab and SuperCrew; Ford Ranger SuperCab; Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Extended Cab and crew cab; Toyota Tacoma Double Cab; and Toyota Tundra Double Cab.
What do these new tests mean for truck buyers?
Some companies, like Ford, say their trucks are ready for the new standards.
“We’ve been aware the new test [standards] were coming,” Ford safety spokesman Wes Sherwood said. “The 2009-11 Ford F-150 already uses lightweight, high-strength materials that’s combined with advanced safety technology like the new K-bag airbag.”
Ford’s “K-bag” is a front-seat dual-chamber side airbag named for its unique shape. It’s designed to help protect the torso from excessive crash forces during a side impact and is standard equipment on the truck.
Toyota uses similar technology. The Tundra was the first full-size pickup to feature standard front-seat-mounted side and roll-sensing side curtain airbags in all models.
Chrysler spokesman Vince Muniga said it’s too early comment on the new safety test procedures until after the initial set of crash test results are released by NHTSA.
We’ll report back with NHTSA’s new pickup truck ratings as soon as they’re available.