NHTSA upgrades New Car Assessment Program

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a Notice of Request for Comment regarding upgrades to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) on March 9, 2022. The notice discusses how NCAP can address vehicle safety involving motor vehicle occupants, other road users, and safe driving choices to further reduce injuries and fatalities. The notice focuses on ways to increase safety through potential changes to the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies program.

The notice includes six parts, including: (1)  a plan to add four ADAS technologies to NCAP and update current ADAS test procedures; (2) a plan to develop a rating system for ADAS technologies; (3) a description of steps to list the crash avoidance rating information on the vehicles window sticker; (4) a description of the roadmap of NHTSA’s plans to update NCAP over the next ten years; (5) requests for comments on expanding NCAP to provide consumer information on safety technologies that could help people drive safer by preventing risky driving behavior; and (6) a discussion of NHTSA’s ideas for updating programmatic aspects of NCAP to improve the program as a whole. Throughout the request for comment, NHTSA poses questions regarding the proposed items. Each of the parts of the notice is discussed below.

  1. ADAS Performance Testing Program. The proposed ADAS performance testing program updates include adding four more ADAS technologies to those that NHTSA currently recommends, and proposing changes to test procedures and performance criteria for the four currently recommended ADAS technologies. The four new ADAS technologies that NHTSA proposes to add are blind spot detection, blind spot intervention, lane keeping support, and pedestrian automatic emergency braking. These four technologies satisfy NHTSA’s four prerequisites for inclusion in the NCAP program: 1) the update to the program addresses a safety need, 2) there are system designs that can mitigate the safety problem, 3) the existing or new system designs have safety benefit potential, and 4) a performance-based objective test procedure exists that can assess system performance. With the inclusion of pedestrian automatic emergency braking, NHTSA would, for the first time, be expanding the “safety need” prerequisite to include safety for people outside of the vehicle. In deciding to include the four new ADAS technologies, NHTSA looked at the number of crashes overall, the number of fatalities, and the number of maximum abbreviated injury scale 1-5 injuries. NHTSA indicated in the notice that while it was not including ADAS technologies involving backing collision avoidance in this proposal, it may propose to add such technology in the future.

The second proposed change to the ADAS performance testing program includes an increase in stringency to the test procedures and performance criteria for the four currently recommended ADAS technologies in NCAP. The four technologies currently included in NCAP are forward collision warning, lane departure warning, crash imminent braking, and dynamic brake support. The notice proposes changes to testing for the four technologies that would aim to enable enhanced evaluation of the technologies’ capabilities and reduce the testing burden on manufacturers.

  1. ADAS Rating System. The notice describes how NHTSA could rate vehicles equipped with ADAS technologies and requests comment on how best to develop the rating system. The NCAP crash avoidance program does not have a rating system to differentiate the performance of ADAS technologies. NHTSA wants to remedy this by developing a rating system that will allow users to have more data to compare vehicles for purchase. Currently, NHTSA places a check mark by the relevant ADAS technology on NHTSA’s website if the vehicle is equipped with the safety technology recommended by NHTSA and the system meets NCAP’s performance specification. The goal of the rating system would be to provide a better comparison point rather than just a checklist. For a rating system, NHTSA is considering a star rating system (like the crashworthiness and rollover prevention rating), a medals rating system, or a points-based system.
  1. Revising the Monroney Label. The notice seeks input on, but does not propose, including a crash avoidance rating at the point of sale on vehicles’ window sticker. In the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, NHTSA was directed to promulgate a rule to ensure crash avoidance information is displayed along with crashworthiness information on window stickers. NHTSA plans to provide this safety information not only at the point of sale, but also on the NHTSA website so that consumers can easily access the data at all times. NHTSA plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2023 to include ADAS performance information from NCAP in the vehicle safety rating section of the Monroney label. In anticipation of the NPRM, NHTSA requests comments on potential rating systems with a goal that any rating system would capture the following: crash protection information - which is tied to a vehicle’s performance in NCAP crashworthiness and rollover testing; safety technology information - which could be comprised of a rating tied to a vehicle’s ability to avoid a crash based on its performance in ADAS testing; and overall vehicle safety performance information - which could give recognition to vehicles that are top performers in both crash protection and safety technology information categories.
  1. Roadmap for NCAP. NHTSA is proposing a roadmap of the agency’s plans to upgrade NCAP in phases over the next ten years and presents the roadmap in the notice to request comment. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requires that NHTSA establish a roadmap for the implementation of NCAP updates. The roadmap must include key milestones, including anticipated start of action and completion of action timelines. The roadmap involves NHTSA issuing planned upgrades in phases as vehicle safety-related systems and technologies mature and data about their use and efficacy become known. The roadmap is divided into five year mid-term and five year long-term components. The mid-term components identify and prioritize safety opportunities and technologies that are practical and for which objective tests and criteria and other consumer data exist. The long-term components would focus on safety opportunities and technologies that exist or are in development which have less data available and require more stakeholder input. The roadmap must be updated at least once every four years to reflect new NHTSA interests.
  1. Adding Emerging Vehicle Technologies for Safe Driving. NHTSA is considering utilizing NCAP to raise consumer awareness of safety technologies that have the potential to help people make safe driving choices. The technologies involved could be those that reduce unsafe driving or riding behavior like speeding, distracted or impaired driving, or riding in a vehicle unrestrained. It could also include technologies that parents and caregivers shopping for a vehicle may want such as alerts for hot car/heatstroke and rear seat occupancy. These emerging technologies would focus on changing driver behavior and habits that could potentially contribute to crashes and injuries.
  1. Programmatic Changes. The notice introduces a variety of ideas for updating programmatic aspects of NCAP to improve the program overall. One proposed update is to revise the 5-star safety system rating to give consumers more information. Revising the 5-star rating system could involve introducing a points-based ratings system, adjusting the baseline risk concept, using half star ratings rather than only whole star ratings, or using decimal ratings. Another proposed update is to standardize ADAS testing to ensure fewer inconsistencies in manufacturers’ self-reported data. In the notice NHTSA indicates that it has identified inconsistencies in vehicle manufacturers’ self-reported data submissions, largely stemming from unfamiliarity with NCAP’s system performance test procedures. NHTSA is considering refusing to accept self-reported data, and not posting recommendations for vehicle systems on NHTSA’s website, when manufacturers’ self-reported ADAS test data is provided by a test facility not designated as a NHTSA contracted test laboratory or when the corresponding ADAS tests are not conducted in accordance with NCAP testing protocols. Finally, the notice discusses NHTSA’s undertaking to modernize the way NCAP communicates with and receives data from relevant stakeholders. NHTSA is developing a new secure online web portal and database that will be used to send, receive, track, store, and process program data elements and communications.

NHTSA’s notice requesting comment demonstrates the agency’s commitment to NCAP’s safety and crash prevention initiative. The notice also indicates NHTSA’s continued interest in technology advancements, particularly in the ADAS technologies field. The automotive industry should prepare for proposed rulemakings in the coming years regarding these issues.

The deadline for commenting on the NCAP proposal is May 9, 2022.



Authored by Latane Montague, Susan McAuliffe, and Christina Bassick.


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