If safety is a key factor for you in deciding which cars to buy, this is a banner week for you. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, unveiled new, higher crash safety ratings standards this week for autos sold in the U.S.
The new ratings are in response to a "good problem": the success of auto engineers in meeting the old standards resulted in ratings that were so high it made the ratings less useful for consumers seeking out the very safest models. To paraphrase Syndrome, the villain in the Pixar classic "The Incredibles," "When everyone is super, no one will be."
So the NHTSA decided to knock everyone down a peg. They introduced a whole battery of new tests new models must pass, including:
- Tests using "female" crash dummies.
- Side-impact testing simulating a collision with a stationary pole.
- Evaluation of crash-avoidance equipment such as electronic stability control.
The standards are intentionally tough, but two models from automakers Hyundai and BMW have already proven attaining a 5-star rating under the new standards is possible. To see how the 2011 model you're thinking about buying did on the new test, surf on over to safercar.gov.