Car safety technology outpacing government crash tests


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Technology is changing the way cars work, but government crash tests that tell if those cars are safe hasn’t kept pace. Now there are calls to improve those tests.

Auto safety has come a long way since the 1950s when seatbelts, airbags, collapsible wheels and other features were not commonplace. Car crashes had been injuring and killing millions every year when the federal government began conducting its on crash tests in the 1970s.

Those government tests in the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) haven’t hept pace by incorporating new technology like braking systems into their evaluations.

Today, those tests are published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Any kind of test, once it’s established, is ripe for cheating,” said David Zuby, the chief research officer of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Zuby said once a test is well known, an automaker can “design the vehicle to pass the test and not necessarily perform well in real-world situations.”

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety have published a 47-page report claiming the NCAP program is easily manipulated by automakers seeking five-star ratings.

Crash and other safety evaluation tests conducted by the IIHS are seen as a way to fill in the gaps left by federal tests.

“We figure if the government is doing it, we don’t need to do the same thing,’’ said Zuby. “Let’s push manufacturers to go beyond what the government is requiring them to do.”

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are calling upon the federal government to:

  • Modernize and enhance crash tests
  • Find ways to improve pedestrian and bike safety
  • Create better crash test dummies

Different crash test dummies are designed for different types of crash — like side crashes and rear crashes.

“The big change they are proposing to do is upgrade the frontal crash test dummy,” said Zuby.

After decades of research, that dummy known as THOR (Test device for Human Occupancy Restraint) may soon be ready to use.

“The dummy is reaching maturity where various testing organizations around the world can start using THOR—which is part of NHTSA’s proposal,” said Zuby.

Before the new federal crash tests are instituted, the government has to develop them. Then, sometime next year, it will ask the public to comment on them before finalizing anything.

So, for the time being, the government tests won’t change. In the meantime, the IIHS is one source for more comprehensive crash test information.

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