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Transportation Department to Revamp Car Safety Rating System to Prevent Grade Inflation

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The "Stars on Cars" system was first introduced in 1979 as the official evaluation tool used to rate cars on their safety effectiveness in the event of a front-end, side-impact, or rollover crash. The program has helped generate interest in the development of important safety equipment such as side-impact airbags and anti-rollover technology. However, in 1979 only 30% of cars received a top rating of "five stars", while in more recent years, over 90% of cars received a "five star" rating. The Transportation Department was becoming increasingly more concerned that vehicles were receiving "safety grade inflations" and recently responded with a new plan to change the current system.

The Transportation Department outlined the changes this morning to the 5-star rating system, which will make it more difficult for new cars and trucks to earn top scores. In fact, only 2 of the 34 vehicles tested under the new program received a top score–the 2011 BMW 5 Series and a version of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. The new system adds an overall score which combines the results of front, side and rollover tests and compares those results with average risk of injury and the potential for vehicle rollover of other vehicles. In addition, the new system also takes into account crash-prevention technologies as well as a test that simulates a car striking a pole.

Car manufacturers are already starting to complain about the more stringent safety standards, but The Transportation Department argues that the higher safety standards and better crash data will make safety "star ratings" more meaningful for consumers.