NHTSA Will Propose Upgrades to Vehicle Crash Test and Rating Program Next Year

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced its plan to propose updates and upgrades to the New Car Assessment Program in 2020.
“NCAP is celebrating its 40-year anniversary, and we’re proud that it continues to encourage automakers to invest in safety,” said NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens. “NHTSA’s Government 5-Star Safety Ratings Program has been replicated around the world, and for good reason: thanks in large measure to NCAP, new vehicles today are safer than ever.”
NCAP is the government’s consumer information program for evaluating vehicle safety performance. The program tests vehicle performance in various crash scenarios and provides an objective rating on a 5-star scale to clearly inform consumers of a vehicle’s safety performance.
Pursuit of a 5-star rating by vehicle manufacturers is behind many of the changes to vehicle construction materials and technology. Significant changes to NCAP would lead to a new round of vehicle technology changes and investments by manufacturers to meet the demands of the revised program.
Drawing, in part, from the comments and feedback received late last year from a public meeting, NHTSA plans to propose major upgrades to NCAP in 2020. These will involve new technologies, new test procedures, updates to vehicle labeling, advancements in crash-test dummies, and continued consumer research to ensure NCAP’s products are effectively meeting the public’s needs. NHTSA will also consider new technologies tied to the safety of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users such as cyclists.
NHTSA is working to publish a Federal Register Notice in 2020 that will seek comment on upgrades to NCAP.
The Association of Global Automakers’ Statement was supportive of the effort to update the program.
“Modernizing and reforming the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) is great news for consumers and the automotive industry. And most importantly, it will save lives. Personal transportation in the United States is evolving at a rapid pace through the development of the next generation of automotive safety technologies such as automated and connected vehicles,” the association said in a statement. “Global Automakers applauds the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for their efforts to modernize NCAP because it will support and speed the expansion of these lifesaving technologies into the marketplace. The NCAP program has a 40-year history of leading consumer information programs around the world and the industry and government will continue to work together to save lives.”
The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) said, “As outlined in the announcement, NCAP encourages ‘automakers to invest in safety.’ MEMA supports this goal and has long urged NHTSA to update NCAP to include crash avoidance technologies. These are not futuristic technologies and are readily available in the market today. These technologies save lives and improve safety.
“Because crash avoidance technologies are proven to be effective, including them in the NCAP rating system will help consumers make wise choices when purchasing a vehicle. MEMA looks forward to working with NHTSA and all stakeholders to address the future of NCAP,” MEMA concluded.
The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) said that changes are needed in NHTSA’s program to address “starflation” and also promote competition by vehicle manufacturers to improve safety by raising crash test speeds.
“NHTSA’s star system today does little to differentiate the performance of vehicles because the majority now get the same rating. This has essentially neutered consumer’s ability to differentiate the best performers from the worst,” said Jack Gillis, Executive Director of CFA and author of The Car Book. “That’s why, in The Car Book, we use the very same crash test data generated by NHTSA to separate performance on a scale of 1-10 so that consumers can identify the truly top performers. NHTSA needs to adopt such a system, as well as increase the speed at which the tests are conducted. 40 years ago, the 35 mph test speed was selected to see which cars exceeded the 30 mph requirements. It is now way past the time when we should increase test speeds. We believe that a program that challenges the manufacturers to post the highest speed at which their vehicle will pass and updated test protocol would set competition for safety on fire.”