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Notes From the Road

Highway Safety and Crash Testing Organizations
By Cathy Nikkel /

As those crash results hit the media, automakers began to use good crash-test results as selling points. As vehicle crash-test ratings moved up from a majority of poor to mediocre ratings, to good ratings, the automakers began moving toward crash avoidance technology to prevent crashes from happening at all. The Electronic Stability Control program, based on anti-lock braking systems, was the first of such technology to show substantial promise as a crash avoidance tool, reducing crashes on wet roads for passenger cars by 75 percent and for SUVs on wet roads by 88 percent. NHTSA is considering mandating this type of system on all future passenger vehicles.

Both NHTSA and IIHS have web sites that offer consumers a wealth of information. The IIHS site ( is more straightforward than the NHTSA site (, but each site offers its own wealth of information.

NHTSA can mount a recall when a safety defect is uncovered. Complaints from consumers are investigated and, if a safety defect is found, the manufacturer is ordered to conduct a recall and repair the defect. The direct route to finding recall information on the NHTSA site is to log on to Vehicles & Equipment at the top of the site then click on Recalls/Defects on the left sidebar and plug in the year, make, and model to get recall information. The site also offers technical service bulletins (TBS) or advisories issued by manufacturers to the dealership service departments. These are not safety or emission problems. However, if your vehicle is under warranty and the service department can confirm that your vehicle has the problem, it can be fixed for free. Only a summary of the TSBs is free on the NHTSA site. For a fee, you can get the entire TSB mailed to you.

Research Help
NHTSA also offers a wealth of information on child safety seats: Recalled models; how to correctly install a child safety seat; what seat is right for your child; as well as local child safety seat inspection sites. The site offers crash tests and rollover ratings for each vehicle the agency tests. A downloadable brochure on how to choose a safer car also offers good buying tips.

Research covering many aspects of auto safety, from distracted driving to pedestrian safety, can also be accessed, but the summary is usually all a novice can handle. If the site defeats you or you'd rather talk to a human being, NHTSA has a Vehicle Safety Hotline open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (1-888-327-4236).

How We Benefit
IIHS is unhampered by government regulation and mandates. It is concerned primarily with the same goals as NHTSA—reducing deaths and injuries from highway crashes. But it is also interested in reducing property loss, as indicated by its widely covered bumper tests. Media coverage of these tests keeps the pressure on automakers to design better bumpers.

The Institute also researches the highway environment to discover ways to cut down on fender benders as well as severe crashes. It has devoted a lot of research to whiplash injuries, which were often derided as fraudulent injuries in the past, but which the Institute says can become lifelong, painful injuries. The Institute championed red light and speed cameras as a way to tame our roadways and is now studying roundabouts as a way to keep traffic moving and circumvent intersection crashes.

Safety Ratings
Their web site is quite easy to navigate and offers crash test ratings for front, side and rear impacts as well as bumper tests. Click on Vehicle Ratings at the top of the web page and plug in the make or model you are researching on the side bar. The page also lists the top safety picks by IIHS in each segment and explains the methods behind those picks. There is a listing on this site as well as on the NHTSA site of all vehicles that are currently equipped with Electronic Stability Control.

Click on Consumer Brochures and Videos to access Injury, collision and theft losses for your vehicle segment. The vehicles are ranked by color codes and show how often your choice is stolen or involved in a collision. Click on Research & Statistics, then click on "show topic list" and a list pops up including airbag, bumpers, collisions with animals, etc. Click on a topic and read through the research or brochures that pop up. The Status Report Newsletter on the top of the web page also makes good background reading on a variety of subjects.

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