I am very thankful that Public Citizen is hard at work as a watchdog for American citizens on the activities of the federal government’s regulatory agencies. Joan Claybrook and her staff have been watching one of them, NHTSA, very closely. Joan believes that improvements to the government’s automobile crash test information program, announced last month, are good, but don’t go far enough. The Department of Transportation officials spent three years working to strengthen the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), but they failed to address any of the program’s most glaring omissions. That – according to Joan – is a disappointment and I share her feelings. Starting with model year 2010, tests will include a new side pole test, which simulates a vehicle hitting a tree. In addition, the tests will use small female crash test dummies, rather than just men. All of that is good.
However, the program still doesn’t include a dynamic (real-world) rollover crash test to determine a vehicle’s safety in a rollover crash. This is extremely important since it’s undisputed that rollover crashes are responsible for about one-third of all vehicle occupant fatalities each year. The program still lacks tests for vehicle performance in rear crashes and pedestrian crashes, and fails to test child safety restraints. Further, it lacks a compatibility rating, which would measure the disparity between the heights and aggression of vehicles on the road and is particularly important given all the tall, hulking SUVs on the roads.
Finally, the government is wrongly retaining its star rating system, which is more confusing to people than a basic A through F grading system. Joan Claybrook established the NCAP program in 1979 while she was head of NHTSA. Her concept at that time was not only to provide safety information to vehicle purchasers, but to push auto manufacturers to go beyond the basic safety standards when designing vehicles. The program started by Joan has worked. For example, in 1979, less than 30% of vehicles earned four or five stars; last year, 98% of vehicles got four or five stars. That is definite progress.
In 2005, a Government Accountability Office report concluded that the NCAP program was out of date and needed to be revamped. Other countries have programs that have far surpassed what NHTSA is doing in the U.S. For example, the programs in the European Union, Japan and Australia are more comprehensive than NCAP and still will be after the announced improvements by NHTSA are instituted. I totally agree with Joan and her co-workers at Public Citizen. By omitting so many valuable tests, NHTSA is missing a huge opportunity to quickly and easily boost safety. The next President and a Democratic-controlled Congress must see that NHTSA does its job and makes safety a real priority.
Source: Public Citizen
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