Saturday, September 23, 2006

Vehicle stickers get crash ratings

Friday, September 08, 2006
Vehicle stickers get crash ratings
Safety agency's 'Stars on Cars' initiative will be required on all new cars and trucks by Sept. 2007.
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The ubiquitous window sticker found on the 17 million new cars and trucks sold annually in the United States is getting its first redesign in 21 years.

The stickers on all new vehicles will be required to display crash-test safety ratings by Sept. 1, 2007, under a new rule finalized Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The initiative is dubbed "Stars on Cars" because the stickers will include the number of stars a vehicle earns in front and side crash tests, and its rollover rating. A five-star rating is the highest mark in each category.

NHTSA administrator Nicole Nason said the additional safety information will help drivers make better choices.

Consumers will see the stickers "and demand the safest car possible," she said.

Joan Claybrook, head of the safety advocacy group Public Citizen, said the rule will pressure automakers into making safer cars.

"If they have a bad rating, they're going to be worried about it because it's going to be right there in the consumer's face," said Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator under President Jimmy Carter.

Honda Motor Co. has been one of the most outspoken automakers in support of the rule and already puts the ratings on all of its window stickers.

"This is part of our safety for everyone campaign," said Edward Cohen, vice president for government relations at Honda.

The new rule comes despite sharp criticism of the tests that NHTSA uses to rate vehicles.

The Government Accountability Office said in a 2005 report that NHTSA's rankings offer "little incentive" for the automakers to improve because most vehicles score either four or five stars.

The GAO also noted that Japan, Australia and the European Union perform pedestrian safety tests, something NHTSA doesn't require. NHTSA also has no pedestrian auto safety requirements, unlike its counterparts abroad.

Nason said NHTSA is studying the GAO recommendations.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research organization funded by insurance companies, gives vehicles without side-impact air bags significantly lower ratings than NHTSA.

No car without side air bags tested by the insurance institute has received a rating better than "poor," said spokesman Russ Rader, adding that most of those same vehicles get four or five stars from NHTSA.

"More information is a good thing but stars and cars doesn't give consumers the full picture," Rader said.

The principal difference between the institute's tests and NHTSA's is that the institute's test includes the equivalent of an SUV or pickup hitting the test car, while NHTSA uses the equivalent of another car.

Side impacts are the second most common type of fatal crashes after front crashes. About 9,700 people were killed in side impacts in 2004.

In newer model crashes, 51 percent of driver deaths now occur in vehicles struck in the side, compared to 44 percent for front crashes, the insurance institute said.

General Motors Corp. already puts crash test data on most of its vehicle stickers, but it's more limited than what the federal law will require next year. GM will begin rolling out the new stickers in February, spokesman Greg Martin said.

NHTSA said it expects nearly all pickup trucks will get the new stickers with crash test ratings, although automakers are not required to put that information on the stickers.

Because of a quirk in the original 1958 sticker law, pickup trucks don't have to have a window sticker -- not to mention one with the safety data -- but nearly all manufacturers are going to comply with the new rule anyway, including GM, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG.

Fuel economy information will also be presented in a new way on vehicle window stickers. Later this year, the Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a redesigned fuel economy box for window stickers, said spokesman John Millet. The mileage figures are also expected to be lower across the board.

Under new testing methods, the fuel economy estimates for city driving in most vehicles will drop 10 percent to 20 percent from current figures, depending on the vehicle. The highway mileage estimates will drop 5 percent to 15 percent, according to the EPA. The new test methods are designed to reflect real-world driving conditions, such as using air conditioning and idling for a long time in traffic jams.

To get more information on NHTSA's safety ratings, go to To see the Insurance Institute's ratings, go to

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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