Automobile consumers in California have looked to the federal five-star safety rating system since the 1990s when shopping for new vehicles. The New Car Assessment Program emerged under the strong leadership of a safety advocate while she served at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As part of her current work for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, this person has written a report criticizing the federal government’s failure to evolve the safety rating system in recent years. Europe, Asia and Latin America now put more effort into vehicle safety testing than the United States.

European regulators administer four times more safety tests than U.S. regulators. Vehicle systems that could detect pedestrians have been ignored by U.S. safety authorities. Real-world data about how new safety technologies actually perform is collected within the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, but the database remains largely inaccessible to the buying public because it is geared toward academic and industry researchers.

Although automobile safety testing has largely stalled within the United States, federal agencies continue to promise improvements like new testing procedures, second-generation crash-test dummies and assessments of new technologies. In the view of the report’s author, these improvements require political will and funding to catch up to other countries.

In previous decades, federal safety evaluations kept consumers informed and motivated the auto industry to build safer vehicles. The inherent dangers of driving, however, mean that car accidents remain a threat, and the victim of a crash might want legal advice when pursuing a personal injury claim. Information about insurance coverage may be easier to come by when consulting an attorney instead of an insurance adjuster who wants to deflect liability. An attorney-led accident investigation also has the potential to uncover vital evidence about negligence that may justify a claim for medical expenses and lost wages.