NHTSA proposes new safety ratings

Each year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration evaluates and provides safety ratings for new motor vehicles. The New Car Assessment Program ratings are intended to provide consumers with the information they need to select a vehicle that can help keep them safe in the event of a car accident. Different people have different needs, however, and the NHTSA recently announced that it is considering changing its safety ratings to provide more detailed information for older drivers and families.

Ratings for older drivers

As the baby boomer generation enters retirement age, the number of older drivers on U.S. highways is likely to increase. According to the AARP, 20 percent of drivers in the U.S. will be over age 65 by 2025. Today, older drivers account for approximately 16 percent of drivers.

The NHTSA has proposed adding a new "silver" rating to its current system that would evaluate new cars according to criteria that are geared toward the needs of older drivers. Specifically, the NHTSA plans on offering ratings based on safety features such as inflatable seat belts and systems that prevent the misapplication of pedals at low speeds. These ratings are particularly important because older drivers are less likely to survive a serious crash than younger drivers. In fact, according to NHTSA statistics, older drivers account for the largest number of fatalities in serious motor vehicle accidents.

New ratings for families

While most safety ratings evaluate how well a car protects the driver and front-seat passenger in a crash, the NHTSA has recognized that families might benefit from information about a vehicle's protection of passengers in the rear seats. The NHTSA already conducts tests using crash dummies of various weights and heights to assess whether the crash protection offered by a vehicle differs according to a person's size. The NCAP ratings may also be amended to provide information about blind spot detection systems and advanced headlight technologies.

While the process of expanding the ratings is just beginning, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers - a trade group representing Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Volkswagen and other auto companies - has already pledged its support for the NHTSA proposal.

No matter what safety features a vehicle may have, occupants can still suffer injury in the event of a serious crash. If you have been injured in a car accident caused by another person, contact a personal injury lawyer, who can provide information about your legal options.