Some questions unanswered on new window sticker rule

  • 06-May-2010 04:25 EDT
Monroney from 3-9-10 notice-1.jpg

The new overall safety rating will be determined based on a complicated formula that takes into account the results of front, side, and oblique pole impact tests, plus dynamic rollover and static stability tests. No overall rating is given in this example because one of the constituent test ratings is not available.

Automakers are nervous about still unsettled changes they must make to safety ratings on window stickers for vehicles manufactured after Sept. 1. Star ratings for frontal, side, and rollover crashworthiness have been required on the window sticker—also called a Monroney label and a "stars on cars" label—since 2007. Now NHTSA (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is proposing a new "overall" safety rating for MY2011 vehicles. Also proposed are wording and format changes; some of these changes are still in flux, causing manufacturers to worry about having enough time to comply.

In addition, consumer groups and some companies, including Bosch and Volvo, are pressing NHTSA to add elements to the label, such as more specific descriptors about safety failings. Some companies want NHTSA to include star ratings for crash-avoidance systems. As of now, NHTSA proposes to put ratings of forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and electronic stability control capabilities on its website but not on the vehicle label.

First required by a 1958 law sponsored by Oklahoma Sen. Mike Monroney, the label initially did not include safety ratings. Those were added under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU) passed by Congress in 2005. Safety ratings are developed as part of NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in which vehicles are crash-tested.

In July 2008, without any push from Congress, NHTSA made several changes to the NCAP program, including the addition of an overall safety rating to be posted on the Monroney label, as well as improvements to the frontal and side crash-testing program to yield more accurate safety ratings. Also adopted were safety rating systems for the three aforementioned crash-avoidance technologies.Those changes originally were to have gone into effect for MY2010 vehicles, but NHTSA in December 2008 announced a delay of the effective date to Sept. 1, 2010.

On March 9, 2010, NHTSA proposed revisions to the requirements of the July 2008 final rule, whose particulars auto manufacturers had been relying on as they readied the new "stars on cars" labels. Some of these proposed changes are small, such as changing the heading of the new overall safety score from "Vehicle Safety Score" to "Overall Vehicle Score." In addition, the "triangle" with an exclamation point within it (required for any of the existing three crash categories to denote a safety concern discovered in NCAP testing) would have to appear in the overall safety rating area if any of the other categories received one. The triangle icon is accompanied by the wording: "Safety Concern: Visit or call 1-888-327-4236 for more details."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which "generally supports" the changes to the content and layout of the label, according to Robert Strassburger, Alliance Vice President of Vehicle Safety and Harmonization, is concerned about insufficient lead time for auto manufacturers to conduct the necessary reprogramming and validation to ensure compliance by Sept. 1. He noted that NHTSA in the past has given companies at least six months of lead time to implement label changes.

Moreover, there does not appear to be enough room on the label to fit all the wording NHTSA requires. That problem can be solved, Strassburger said, by eliminating the requirement that the "safety concern" text beside the triangle icon be included in any of the three individual crash sections and then repeated in the overall section. "The full 'safety concern' text in the Overall Safety Score section, as well as the safety concern icon(s) placed next to the star rating for the crash modes where the concern(s) apply, would remain and still provide all of the necessary safety information," Strassburger said.

NHTSA's decision to publish crash-avoidance ratings only on the website has drawn complaints. Ronaldo Reimer, Regional President, Chassis Systems Controls, Robert Bosch LLC, argues that the ratings for forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and electronic stability control systems should be put on the label. He pointed out that increasing the safety label size is permitted under SAFETEA-LU, which only sets a floor for the size of the safety label: 8% of the total area of the label or an area with a minimum length of 4.5 in and a minimum height of 3.5 in. He said most consumers, based on studies, do not go to the safercar website for information.

Adam Kopstein, Manager, North American Product Safety and Compliance, Volvo Cars of North America, says his company also supports putting advanced safety system information on the label. This would allow manufacturers to "highlight advanced systems that conform to the NCAP requirements." That information could be added by "a reduction of passive-safety information within the label."

Advocates for Highway Safety, a consumer group, wants NHTSA to require a more explicit "safety concern" text. Henry Jasny, General Counsel for Advocates, said someone considering a purchase at a dealership is not going to go to as he or she moves between models, and from dealership to dealership, to get more information about a particular car's safety issues denoted by the triangle icon. For example, the safety text in the side-crash portion of the safety label could include the words: “Safety concern: doors opened during side impact compliance test.”

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