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Activities of the New Car Assessment Program in the United States
Published May 13, 1996 by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in United States
In 1978, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began assessing the occupant protection capabilities of new cars by conducting high-speed frontal barrier crash tests. This New Car Assessment Program has primary goals to provide consumers with a measure of the relative safety potential of automobiles and to establish market forces which encourage vehicle manufacturers to design higher levels of safety into their vehicles.
The New Car Assessment Program crash test conditions closely resemble actual frontal crashes that result in fatalities or serious injuries. In these controlled crash tests, the levels of potential injury are assessed by measurements taken from two anthropomorphic test devices (dummies) that simulate 50th percentile adult males. Biomechanical data have been used to develop injury risk functions which relate the dummy measurements to injury probabilities. Beginning with the model year (MY) 1994 vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted the use of these injury risk functions to develop a simplified star rating data format which could provide consumers with easily understandable vehicle safety performance information.
Notable improvements in occupant safety as measured by the dummy responses have occurred during the history of the program. About a one-third reduction in the probability of a life-threatening injury has occurred in the NCAP passenger cars (PCs as measured by the controlled crash test results. Light trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles (LTVs) are noted to have injury probabilities higher than those measured in the PCs. However, in recent years, improvements in NCAP LTV performance have led to about a 25 percent reduction in the calculated probability of AIS ≥ 4 injuries.
Studies have established that a significant correlation exists between the serious injury probabilities as predicted by the test scores and actual fatality risks on the road. When dividing the vehicles into "lower risk" and "higher risk" performers as defined by the injury probabilities from the NCAP tests, restrained drivers of the "lower risk" cars are as much as 30 percent less likely to receive fatal injuries when compared to restrained drivers of the "higher risk" cars in severe frontal crashes. These results when compared to the test results from the rapidly increasing number of airbag-equipped vehicles indicate that the trend of improving occupant protection in severe frontal crashes is expected to continue.
The upgrade of Federal Motor Vehicle Standard (FMVSS) No. 214, Side Impact Protection, to require a dynamic test provides the opportunity for the expansion of NCAP into side-impact protection. Crash conditions for this expansion have been determined and test results from higher speed crashes have been compared to results from FMVSS No. 214 test results.
In 1995 and 1996, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted frontal offset crash tests on PCs and LTVs. These data provide the first comparison of an extensive group of U.S. vehicles which have been tested in both full-frontal and frontal-offset crashes. The results support the position that the full-frontal test is a more stringent evaluation of the restraint system performance. However, due to more intrusion, the probability of lower leg injury will be better determined in the offset crashes. By testing in both crash modes, as the Road and Traffic Authority of New South Wales is doing, a more complete assessment of vehicle safety is possible.
Two studies on consumer information have recently been completed. The "NHTSA 1995 Customer Satisfaction Survey" provides national estimates of the public's attitudes, opinions, and behavior relative to traffic safety. The Transportation Research Board's study "Shopping for Safety: Providing Consumer Safety Information," broadly examined motor vehicle consumer needs and methods of communicating this information to the public. NHTSA is closely reviewing these studies relative to NCAP and consumer information activities.