May 3, 2005

US government agency calls for better crash tests

Washington, D.C. – The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has presented a report to Congress, stating that crash tests conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) are outdated and may not adequately test for safety concerns.

The GAO reports that in 2003, 42,643 people were killed and more than 2.8 million injured in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. The NHTSA conducts full frontal and angled side crash tests and a rollover test under the New Car Assessment Program in an effort to reduce fatalities and improve vehicle safety. Each year, the NHTSA tests new vehicles that are expected to have high sales volume, have been redesigned with structural changes, or have improved safety equipment. Vehicles receive ratings from one to five stars.

GAO identified four other programs, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the U.S. and the New Car Assessment Programs in Australia, Europe and Japan, which conduct different types of frontal and side crash tests. Some perform other tests, such as pedestrian tests, that are not conducted under the U.S. program. Only the U.S. program conducts a rollover test.

The GAO reports that other programs measure test results differently and include more potential injuries to occupants in their ratings. They also report their test results differently, with all summarizing at least some of the scores or combining them into an overall crashworthiness rating to make comparisons easier.

The GAO reports that the usefulness of the current NHTSA tests has been eroded by the growing number of larger pickups, minivans and SUVs in the vehicle fleet since the program began. In addition, scores have increased to the point where there is little different in vehicle ratings, providing little incentive for manufacturers to further improve safety. The GAO suggests that opportunities to enhance the program include developing approaches to better measure the interaction of large and small vehicles and occupant protection in rollovers, rating technologies that help prevent crashes, and using different injury measures to rate the crash results.

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