Think your car is safe because it earned a top safety rating from the Transportation Department Stars on Cars crash rating system? The rules are about to change. Starting with model year 2011 cars, the government rating system for front and side impact and rollover potential will change, making it tougher for cars to earn the five star rating.
Too many of the current cars were earning the highest five star rating, according to the Associated Press. When the program began in 1979, less than 30% of cars earned the top rating. This encouraged safety innovation like side impact airbags and anti-rollover improvements and now, 90% percent of cars earn the top rating of five stars. This result can make it too difficult for the consumer to tell the safest cars apart from the rest.
"More stars equal safer cars," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Through new tests, better crash data and higher standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers."
The AP reports that the new safety rating system will be depend on an overall score. Ratings will be based on a car's crash prevention technology and performance in a new crash test which simulates the car hitting a pole. The final score rests on the results of the front, side and rollover tests and compares them to the average injury risk and potential for rollover of other cars.
Of the 34 new 2011 models that have been tested so far, only two, the BMW 5 Series and a 2011 Hyundai Sonata, received the top five star crash rating. On the slightly lower end of the scale, the 2011 Nissan Versa got two stars, while hybrid and conventional versions of the Toyota Camry received three stars.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing car makers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford and others, said today said the changes will mean the safety ratings for new cars will probably go down, even in cases where there have been no significant changes to the vehicle.