Are Vehicle Safety Ratings Reliable?
Although vehicle crash data is easily accessible to the public from national and state government data sites, it is not applied to the highly influential safety ratings given by groups like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), that consumers often turn to when searching for a vehicle. While a certain model’s accident frequency speaks more about the production numbers and driver behavior than the manufacturer, some factors, like the severity of the accident and damages could be useful information for consumers to access when searching for a vehicle.
Factory crash tests are valuable in testing a car’s durability and protectiveness but cannot account for real-world unexpected incidents. Crash tests evaluate the most common types of accidents (rear-ends, head-on-collision, and T-bone collisions), but not every car accident happens in the manner of a crash test. By including real vehicle crash data in safety ratings, safety administrations like the NHTSA and IIHS could potentially lower the frequency of accidents by highlighting and educating consumers on which vehicles have been involved in the most severe and frequent crashes, and how each vehicle handles a crash.
Statewide vehicle crash data is easily accessed on the internet and includes factors leading to accidents, including location, drug and alcohol use, distracted driving, speeding, and aggressive driving. In addition to specific safety features, this data could be used by safety administrations to update vehicle safety ratings by using vehicles factory test ratings, and real-world crash results to create a more certain understanding of how a vehicle will react to and withstand an accident. Buyers may benefit from more safety information when searching for a vehicle; a five-star overall safety rating does not always mean that a vehicle will be able to adequately protect its passengers or anyone else involved in an accident.
The NHTSA research department is currently focusing on vehicle crashworthiness and is working on additional safety tests that include different accident types; they also implemented a new safety rating method to revise, strengthen and add important detail to the existing safety rating methods. In June 2022, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), many American stakeholders called for the current presidential administration to update regulations around vehicle safety ratings. They implored that the cars that receive the highest safety ratings (for their passengers) are the most likely to kill cyclists and pedestrians, and therefore should not be given such high safety ratings. The group states that vehicle safety ratings should apply to the overall safety of the vehicle, including its passengers and those outside the vehicle. The stakeholders offered suggestions to include in updating safety ratings, including tests for pedestrian protection and survivability for people outside of the vehicle, considering the amount of visibility available from the driver’s seat, and enforcing additional safety features that might detect and react to pedestrians before the driver.
Crash tests performed on vehicles currently only test the safety of the occupants of the car, but this call for improvement suggests additional tests that evaluate the safety of a pedestrian or cyclist in an accident. If certain cars are prone to pedestrian and cyclist deaths, they might receive a lower safety rating due to the dangers they pose for people outside the car. Many people may question the integrity of safety ratings because the most dangerous cars to pedestrians and cyclists are still receive four- and five-star safety ratings. For transparency and safety reasons, every vehicle’s safety rating could be applicable to the safety of every person that encounters the car; as a passenger or someone outside the vehicle.