— The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had a tough 2015 trying to answer questions about its failures to protect the public from deadly GM ignition switches. Promising to increase its enforcement actions, NHTSA wants to change its culture and is now taking a tougher stance against automakers.
As part of its increased safety role, the government is changing the way it rates vehicles for safety. The plans are to add additional crash tests and use more sophisticated crash-test dummies that mimic human behaviors. Additional plans include rating crash avoidance technologies and assessing pedestrian protection.
NHTSA crash tests have been considered inferior to the stricter tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. NHTSA says it wants its 5-star safety ratings updated and upgraded to reflect the changing times. One of those changes will be in the "stars" themselves as NHTSA plans to add half-star increments to the system.
NHTSA says it is concerned that a high percentage of vehicles receiving 4 and 5 stars diminishes the program’s ability to identify the vehicles with exceptional safety performance. Safety regulators believe enhancements to the testing process should be more stringent to address emerging available technologies.
The safety agency says new tests will also be created to assess how well vehicles protect pedestrians from head, leg and pelvic injuries. Crash tests have historically been used to determine the safety of occupants in a car. However, now it seems an automaker will need to design a car to protect a drunk person walking across a street.
The government also wants a new frontal crash test to indicate occupant safety in a frontal crash that occurs at an angle. Additional tests will be conducted to test rear occupant protection when a car hits an object head-on.
The new rating system probably won't be seen until model year 2019 vehicles hit the market.
Then there is THOR, or the "Test device for Human Occupant Restraint." The THOR 50th percentile male metric test dummy will be the primary dummy used in NHTSA frontal crash tests.
THOR was designed to ensure a response in a crash similar to a human, including by size and shape. This could be a mistake based on the percentage of overweight Americans, but THOR replicates a mid-sized human with anatomically-correct designs in the neck, chest, shoulder, spine and pelvis.
NHTSA says THOR has a unique design of the important cervical neck column where the neck is connected to the head with two anterior and posterior cables and a pin joint centered between the cables. This is an improvement above the standard pin-joint-only dummies.
Because of the design, NHTSA says "a THOR-specific risk for neck injury is better aligned with human injury risk at all levels of risk."
THOR's chest area was also created to give more human-like behaviors, with individual ribs that are angled downward to better match human rib design. The chest design will also more closely match injuries that are possible from seat belts that go across the chest. In addition, the pelvis area of THOR will replicate human bone structure and the damage that can be done by the lap seat belt.