Washington, D.C. – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a new plan to improve the federal government’s automobile crash tests and strengthen its five-star vehicle safety rating system, as announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

“Knowing how many horses a car engine has is important, but knowing how safe a car is before you even step into a dealership ought to be essential,” Peters said. “We want to make sure consumers can easily take safety into consideration when choosing a new vehicle, along with price, fuel efficiency, size and the colour they like best.”

Under improvements to the five-star safety rating program, vehicles will, for the first time, be given an overall safety rating that combines results from frontal, side and rollover tests, beginning with model-year 2010. The upgraded system will also include new frontal crash tests, and a new side pole test to simulate wrapping a vehicle around a tree, Peters said. Female crash test dummies will also be added to the tests, so that women and larger children are represented, and that new testing for leg injuries will be done.

Also, for the first time, a new rating on emerging advanced technologies will be added, so consumers will know whether specific crash avoidance technologies, such as electronic stability control, lane departure warning systems and forward collision warning systems, are optional or standard on new vehicles.

“Enhanced government safety ratings are intended to further the continuous advancement of vehicle safety,” said Nicole R. Nason, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator. “In addition to providing important information to consumers, the ratings encourage vehicle manufacturers to continue to design vehicles that reach an even higher level of safety.”

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