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Star struck: NHTSA plans changes for vehicle safety rating system

It's a safe bet to say that virtually every potential car or passenger-truck buyer entering a dealership and browsing through its many aisles of new offerings soon becomes star struck.

The reason for that is, of course, that federal safety regulators have long employed a safety standard that evaluates vehicle performance based on a star rating.

The bottom line: Earn five stars as a vehicle manufacturer and rub your hands with glee; the profits are likely coming in. Conversely, earn a 1-star rating and, well, run for cover. Not too many consumers are going to fork out hard-earned money for a car or truck adjudged by safety officials as clearly lacking the pack in protecting vehicle occupants.

The clear benefit of having some background material firmly grounded in testing outcomes is obvious to consumers in California and elsewhere wondering how a given vehicle model might fare in a crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration thinks it would be even more helpful if would-be buyers had ready access to data indicating even more important information about that given car or truck, namely, its performance relative to other vehicles regarding the ability to avoid a crash in the first place.

The NHTSA seeks to make that information available in the future, starting with 2019 vehicle models. The agency has recommended that material changes be made to its star rating system to enable consumers to make a more nuanced evaluation and purchasing decision.

Thus, if the NHTSA has it way, the stars that dealership visitors will see in future years on vehicle stickers will relate to far more than just vehicle performance in a crash. They will also contain important information concerning the presence or absence of myriad technological assists that can enable a driver to avoid accidents, such as lane-departure warnings and automatic braking.

An updated standard, notes an analyst for one prominent safety advocacy group, spells "great news for consumers."

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