Every automaker, it seems, has a five-star rating to boast about, and almost every vehicle, it seems, offers the claim of "class leading safety" in ads.
With the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) having tightened its requirements to be a Top Safety Pick for 2010, and now the federal government introducing a new side-pole test and tougher 5-star rating system for 2011, it will at last be much easier to tell the vehicles that offer exceptionally good occupant protection from those that don't.
In recent years, some have called the federal tests useless at first glance, as in some classes nearly all of the models have received top five-star results. Very few have received three stars or less over the past several model years.
With the recalibration, NHTSA says that three-star vehicles will again provide average or close to average injury protection compared to other vehicles of the same model year.
As before, side and rollover tests will be comparable across all types of vehicles, but because the vehicle's weight is a factor in the frontal test, it can only be compared in that category between vehicles that are plus or minus 250 pounds of each other.
The new ratings will include an overall score that combines the results of frontal crash tests, side tests, and rollover tests, and displayed in a new format on NHTSA's SaferCar.gov information portal. While the frontal tests haven't been significantly changed, a completely new side pole test has been introduced, to simulate a single-vehicle impact with a utility pole or tree (one of the deadliest types of accidents).
In addition, the agency will now also summarize pertinent "advanced technology information," which includes electronic stability control, forward collision warning systems, and lane departure warning systems.
“This new testing program significantly raises the safety bar for all vehicle manufacturers and will provide consumers with a great deal more safety information about the cars and trucks they want to buy,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a release.
Shoppers won't be able to compare scores given by the new system with those of the old one, so this year NHTSA plans to test more vehicles than usual—55 models in all.
Click to the next page to see the complete list of 2011 model-year vehicles to be tested.