Government Unveils New Crash Rating System: Say Hello to the Female Crash Dummy

Natalie Josef
October 8, 2010

Earlier this week, the Transportation Department and its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration introduced a more comprehensive crash rating system that will now include an "overall vehicle score,” which will combine the results of front and side crash tests, and rollover resistance tests. The system will then compare those results with the average risk of injury and the potential rollover of other vehicles. Here are some of the new changes:

Female crash dummies
I don’t think the women’s lib movement ever fought for equality in the crash rating system, but it’s finally here.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has used female dummies since 2003 and knows firsthand that women can be more vulnerable in car crashes. "Smaller people have their seats further forward; that tends to put their heads right in the middle of the window," Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS, says. “There’s nothing between their heads and whatever’s coming in from the outside to hit them.”

Since they tend to sit closer to the steering wheel, women also have a greater likelihood of being harmed by a rapidly deploying airbag. Manufacturers who want the top safety rating are now designing front airbags to address this issue and side airbags that are large enough so that women’s heads don’t slip underneath them.

New tests
Not only have new dummies been added, but they will also collect data about injuries to the head, chest, neck, and legs—the old dummies only measured chest damage. In addition, there is a new test that simulates a car striking a pole.

More stars, safer cars
A new ratings system has also been introduced. The old system used four or five stars and 90 percent of vehicles achieved the top score. The new system will use five stars, but achieving the top score will be more difficult. According to Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation, "We've raised the bars on safety. More stars, safer cars. People really have to prove to us these cars deserve a 5-star rating.”

Since the new tests are more rigorous, many vehicles will see their safety ratings drop. For example, the Toyota Camry, one of America's top-selling cars, scored only a three out of five possible stars, having been dragged down by lower ratings on front and side crashes. In the old system, it was one of the top-rated cars.

New safety features

There are new crash-prevention technologies out on the market now that will be assessed in determining a car’s overall safety. For example, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and electronic stability control significantly increase a car’s safety rating. Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insight at TrueCar Inc., hopes that the new system will offer consumers a more complete picture of a vehicle’s overall safety and lead to increased sales for the industry’s safest cars.

The bottom line

Only two of the thirty-four cars tested in the first group achieved the five-star rating—the BMW 5 series and the Hyundai Sonata. The above-mentioned Camry was the second lowest. The very lowest? The Nissan Versa, which only received two stars due to its vulnerability in side crash tests.

While it’s great that these safety test are now incorporating female crash dummies, you have to wonder what took the government so long—it’s not like women are the only “smaller” people in the world. The old tests only used “average-sized” adult males, so I can’t help but think that this is good not only for women, but smaller guys, teenagers, and the elderly—really, anyone who is not an “averaged-sized” adult male, which, after all, is the majority of the population.


Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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