DEARBORN -- Many prospective car buyers use the government’s Five-Star Safety Ratings system as they are considering what vehicle meets their family’s needs. Starting soon, however, the numbers may become a bit more confusing.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is revising its five-star program with stricter criteria for 2011 model year vehicles, making it much more difficult to achieve a five-star rating. As a result, a car or truck that achieved a five-star rating under the old system may only receive three or four stars with the new guidelines, even though no changes have been made to the vehicle.
While the new ratings are designed to make safety information more complete, Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, says the new system may leave some car buyers scratching their heads – especially if they do a lot of cross-shopping.
“The confusion for consumers is that you’re going to have old and new models in the showroom,” she explained. “What we need to tell people is make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, so you’re not comparing the old test to the new test.”
To make it easier for customers to navigate through dealer lots, Cischke says Ford will add an extra label to the side glass of all new vehicles that shows what the previous rating was and also the rating the vehicle received from another key rating organization – the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
“Almost all of our vehicles have earned a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS,” she said.
NHTSA’s new five-star rating system gives each vehicle an Overall Vehicle Score determined by combining results from the frontal crash tests, side crash tests, rear crash test and a static rollover measurement.
Cischke says she has concerns about the method NHTSA is using to determine a vehicle’s rollover rating. It’s called a static stability factor measurement, and it’s based on the notion that there is a correlation between rollovers and a vehicle’s height and width.
“What they’re not taking into consideration right now are all of the vehicles that have electronic stability control or roll stability control,” she said. “And that the static measurement doesn’t necessarily correlate with whether a vehicle might rollover in the real world. If a car or truck has our technology, it’s highly unlikely to be in that kind of an accident.”
According to Cischke, a new side pole test – which mimics side impacts involving tall and narrow fixed objects such as utility poles and trees – will make it particularly difficult for vehicles to achieve five stars.
“The new side pole test is very difficult,” said Cischke. “When you hit a pole, there are a lot of things that can happen because the pole is so rigid and it is such a local hit.”
NHTSA may be employing tougher standards, but Cischke says bring it on.
“Ford is a safety leader, and we’re doing things that really make a difference in the real world,” she said, noting new advancements in safety technology, such as the world-first inflatable seatbelts introduced in the rear seat of the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer.
“With the newness of the tests, there are a lot of things that we have to change, but we’re still going to be better than the competition. We’re just going to have to keep working our way back up the ladder.”