Consumers Digest Warns of Limitations of Auto Safety Ratings

Dec 13, 2005, 00:00 ET from Consumers Digest

    DEERFIELD, Ill., Dec. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Don't rely solely on those widely
 publicized star-based ratings for assessing the safety of your next auto
 purchase, say the editors of Consumers Digest. While car makers' use those
 star ratings extensively in auto ads, CD's staff joins other critics of the
 methodology, objectivity and sensibility of the tests conducted by the
 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance
 Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
     In "Crash Tests: What's Behind the Auto Safety Ratings," in the February
 issue of CD (on sale January 1), NHTSA is criticized for an out-of-date scheme
 in conducting its frontal-crash test program. IIHS is chided for being more
 concerned with testing vehicles to evaluate for potential for insurance claims
 rather than overall crashworthiness. Other methodology concerns include an
 inability to compare results of one vehicle to those of another in a different
 size/weight class; side-impact testing on NHTSA's part that isn't designed to
 evaluate injury to a car occupant's head; NHTSA's dependence on vehicle
 dimensions rather than actual test-driving performance to compute rollover
     Neither group's ratings consider how well a given vehicle can help
 motorists stop, steer or otherwise maintain control to avoid getting into
 accidents in the first place.
     Rich Dzierwa, CD's managing editor, points out how some experts contend
 the human factor is mistakenly omitted from the safety equation when only
 NHTSA's and IIHS' ratings are considered. The age/experience or height of the
 person behind the wheel, for example, needs to be taken into account in the
 purchase of an SUV to determine how "safe" it is to drive. Rusty Haight,
 director of the Collision Safety Institute, says "There are so many aspects of
 traffic safety that you can't just single out one aspect and say it's . . .
 the thing that is going to make (you) safest."
     Consumers Digest's editors express particular confusion over how these
 four- and five-star rating systems often don't assign any vehicle less than "3
 stars." "With no significant variation in test results among comparable
 vehicles, the tests are virtually rendered moot," the article's author, CD
 auto expert Jim Gorzelany, said in the piece.
     The bottom line, the magazine reports, is that these crash tests should be
 taken with the proverbial grain of salt. They do indicate that today's
 vehicles perform better than ever before in crash tests, but they are far from
 perfect and, thus, should be viewed as components of a comprehensive vehicle
 safety evaluation.
     "Safety sells when it comes to automobiles," Dzierwa says. "But there's
 far more to consider when evaluating an automobile's safety than just counting
 the stars."
     Consumers Digest, launched in 1959, is designed to inform and educate
 readers so they can buy with confidence, no matter the product or service. The
 magazine is committed to providing practical advice, factual evaluations and
 specific recommendations, leading consumers to exceptional values in today's
 complex marketplace.

SOURCE Consumers Digest