Since 1978, the car-buying public has been able to judge the safety of their next car, in part, based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 5-Star Safety Ratings. Today safety regulators announced they’re proposing big changes that will bring the safety ratings system into the 21st century, and prepare it for what’s next in the world of cars.

NHTSA officials said their plans for a revised system will include an additional crash test, more human-like crash test dummies, assessing pedestrian protection, allowing half-stars in ratings for the first time ever, and ranking crash-avoidance technologies like automatic braking.

Basically, the updated tests could get more in line with new safety technologies becoming increasingly common on new cars, as options or as standard equipment.

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Speaking of which, these changes—if adopted—will most likely spur even more widespread adoption of these technologies on new cars. From Automotive News:

The changes would likely compel automakers to offer more cars and light trucks with features such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning and pedestrian detection as standard equipment. Regulators would develop minimum performance criteria and rate vehicles based on how they stack up to that, giving only partial credit to vehicles that make the technology optional.

The new proposed crash test is an angled frontal collision test called the “frontal oblique crash test,” similar to the test used by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That test simulates crashes blamed for numerous deaths and injuries, and it’s been a test some automakers have struggled with.

In addition, NHTSA’s revised testing will use dummies sized to better measure the safety of children in crashes, a five-star ranking of how safe the car is for pedestrians, and dummies that can gauge the likelihood of internal organ and brain trauma, AN reports.

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NHTSA will begin collecting public comments on the proposed updates soon before issuing a final decision by the end of next year.

As Bloomberg reports, America’s highway death toll was up 8.1 percent the first half of this year, with cheap gas and record new car sales spurring people to drive more. That’s a surprising departure from the downward trend in fatalities the country has seen over the past few years.

The effects of this should be very interesting to see on the cars due out in the next few years.


Contact the author at patrick@jalopnik.com.