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High-tech crash prevention features may soon count toward official safety ratings

As I've gotten older, my (imagined) invincibility shield has worn off somewhat, and I've become much more interested in safety when shopping for a car. It's like that scene from Old School where Will Ferrell is enthusiastically talking about going to Home Depot, only with crash test videos on YouTube. That's my life. Don't hate.

But the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the US Government's arbiter of all things vehicle safety, thinks it can crash test better. It's proposing a reworking to the famous 5-Star Safety Ratings that can be found on every new car window sticker, taking into consideration significant safety innovations, like automatic braking, that have become much more common in the past few years — even in affordable cars.

Crash Test 2

These days, when discussing vehicle safety, the actual crashes are only half the puzzle. Many new cars are able to avoid crashes entirely thanks to advanced collision detection and automatic braking systems. The current 5-Star rating system doesn't consider these features at all, even though the most survivable crash is the one that never happens. As such, NHTSA wants to take all those advanced safety features into consideration when issuing safety ratings.

Along with new, more humanlike crash test dummies and a new "frontal oblique" crash test to simulate an angled front-end crash, NHTSA will introduce improved pedestrian impact tests and an improved frontal crash test to better examine how rear seat occupants fare in a crash. Perhaps most importantly, NHTSA will now assess and test crash-avoidance technologies built into modern cars including:

  • Forward Collision Warning
  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Semi-automatic high beams
  • Lane Departure Warnings
  • Blind Spot Detection

Crash test autostop

Vehicles are getting smarter, and that trend will only accelerate as we get closer to fully autonomous vehicles. At some point, will we be able to eliminate traditional crash tests entirely? We're at least a couple decades away, but the thought isn't as absurd as it once was.

NHTSA is soliciting public comments for 60 days, with final changes to the testing structure expected before the end of 2016. The ratings would then begin appearing on 2019 model year vehicles.