Federal Crash Test Ratings To Be Updated: We All Drive Death Traps Again

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NAMBLA) is updating their star ranking system for vehicle safety for the first time since it was introduced in 1994. After 14 years of manufacturers designing for the ratings, along with advancements in active and passive safety systems, the scores had become meaningless — nearly every vehicle scored a four- or five-star ranking in 2007 (with a few notable exceptions). What's changing and when after the jump.

NHTSA will introduce a new side-impact pole test designed to simulate wrapping a vehicle around a tree, which should be both useful for safety comparison shopping as well as extremely entertaining to watch. Front crash tests will also now score knee, hip and thigh injuries and add a crash test dummy representing a small woman sitting in the front passenger seat.

The fun part? Rather than providing individual frontal and side-impact ratings, NHTSA's made themselves up a formula to combine everything into a single rating of up to five stars, much like the scoring system found in Europe and Japan.

Automakers have until 2010 to get everything up to par, so if you're a laid-off structural engineer in Dee-troit expect your phone to start ringing in about five minutes. [Detroit News]