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Five-star safety ratings allows consumers better choices

Over the past several decades, leaders in both the automotive industry and government have sought to improve the safety of all motor vehicles. These efforts have been paying off in recent years with vehicles that are safer and easier to drive and that allow drivers and passengers to survive accidents that would likely have been fatal in years past. For about 35 years, Montana residents have seen these efforts in programs such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's five-star safety-rating system, which provides buyers with information on the crashworthiness of new vehicles.

Under product liability law, automobile companies are responsible for delivering safe products that present few, if any, potential hazards to consumers, including auto defects. Defects in design or manufacturing can cause accidents that kill or injure and they are the main reason why vehicles have been subject to safety recalls.

Although federal laws deal with overall vehicle safety, the five-star program goes beyond minimum requirements to give consumers more information on safety. One star goes to vehicles that offer minimal safety protection; five stars are awarded to vehicles that have the maximum possible safety protection. Although crash-avoidance technologies are not part of the five-star program, NHTSA still identifies those vehicles as having such features.

The five-star program began in 1978 and initially only measured increases in safety for occupants of motor vehicle accidents that are involved in frontal crashes. Safety ratings for side crashes and rollovers were added later. Although other organizations also crash vehicles and offer test results, only NHTSA includes rollover resistance in its ratings.

The five-star program gives consumers the ability to compare different vehicle models before making a final purchase. The ratings program also encourages automotive manufacturers to build safer vehicles because the results of the five-star safety ratings must be clearly displayed on all new vehicles that are shown to consumers.

Source: SaferCar.gov, "5-Star Safety Ratings Frequently Asked Questions," accessed Feb. 26, 2015

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