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NHTSA to upgrade vehicle crash test program

Sure your Hyundai Sonata has received the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) top five-star crash test rating for front and side impacts last year. But will it and its top of the line Hyundai parts fare when the government raises the safety bar even higher?

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced plans to revise its automobile crash tests at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, perhaps in response to criticism that too many cars have reached the highest ranking of five stars over the past two years.

According to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would seek changes to its New Car Assessment Program to strengthen frontal, side-impact and rollover testing and measure new crash avoidance technologies more commonly used in vehicles.

"Now is the time for all of us to join together to raise that safety bar even higher. We can never become complacent about saving lives," Peters said.

NHTSA conducts vehicle crash tests and rates them on a scale of one to five stars _ with five stars as the highest score _ to help consumers evaluate a vehicle's safety.

The proposal, outlined in a 26-page report, would upgrade the frontal test to rate vehicles on their ability to prevent upper leg injuries and the side test to consider how side air bags can protect the driver's head, as well as consolidate the frontal and side crash ratings to create a single, summary vehicle rating and consider offering a rating for rear crash protection.

NHTSA would likewise provide a grade for crash avoidance technologies such as electronic stability control, lane departure warnings and rear collision avoidance systems. The agency has already proposed mandating stability control in all new vehicles by the 2012 model year.

The new approach however, would maintain the star system while using a letter grade for advanced technologies. A vehicle, for instance, could receive "an `A' under additional technologies because the manufacturer has decided willingly to include some of these technologies," NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason said.

Safety advocates have called for crash tests to be more rigorous and to include higher speed crashes and larger impact vehicles. Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said, "They need to do something that will accelerate vehicle design improvements," Lund said. "If everyone gets four or five stars, that's not useful."

NHTSA will hold a meeting on March 7 in Washington to hear suggestions on the plan.

About the Author: Corey Putton is a 28-year old bachelor from Pittsburgh, PA who has been around cars for the better part of his life. He now works online and writes all about his passion: cars. He is also a certified mechanic.

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