Crash-Test Ratings May Include Senior-Citizen Protection

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Auto-safety regulators plan to change the rating system for new cars sold in the U.S. to keep up with advances in technology and better protect older drivers and passengers.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a Federal Register posting today said it may create a “silver” rating system for how well vehicles protect older occupants in crashes. It also may consider how rear-seat passengers and pedestrians fare in crashes and is looking at new test procedures for electric vehicles.

While brands such as General Motors Co.’s Cadillac are seeking younger buyers, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said he thinks a ’’silver’’ rating will be attractive to automakers because of the purchasing power of the aging baby-boom generation.

“They’re saying nobody wants to be the car for seniors, but the baby boom is the largest generation in the history of this country,” Strickland said after a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington. “And they’re buying cars.”

Older drivers and passengers are more likely than their younger counterparts to be injured or killed in vehicle crashes, according to data compiled by NHTSA.

NHTSA performs the crash tests on new vehicles each year and posts the results on its website. The tests act as non-regulatory incentives for automakers to make safety improvements so they can use high ratings in their marketing.

“Safety is critical to automakers, and we welcome this notice,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington-based group whose members include Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors. “We’re reviewing this and will be offering constructive comments.”

Three Years

The crash tests were most recently changed for the 2011 model year. Those changes took about three years to implement, Strickland said when asked how quickly the potential alterations being floated this week might be made.

The last changes added rating incentives for safety technologies including forward-collision warnings and electronic stability control. Because electronic stability control is now required in new vehicles sold in the U.S., having it won’t give a vehicle a higher rating after the crash-test program is changed, Strickland said.

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