High safety ratings are now harder for cars and trucks to earn. This announcement comes from the Transportation Department, which has changed the government's 5-Star Safety Rating System.
Only two cars have earned five stars among the 2011 models tested so far – the 2011 BMW 5 Series and a version of the Hyundai Sonata. The Toyota Camry, which is the best-selling passenger car in the United States, received three stars even though a virtually identical model received five stars last year.
The system, started in 1979, tests vehicle performance in front-end and side-impact crashes and rollovers. It has been revamped for the 2011 model year because so many vehicles used to receive top scores that it was difficult to identify the best performers. Typically, over 90 percent of the cars and trucks tested under the old program earned four or five stars.
The new tests include more sizes of dummies and a pole crash test. They also highlight additional safety technology, such as electronic stability control. The majority of vehicles received an overall score of four out of five stars. This means that consumers have to look at stars received on individual tests to figure out how vehicles will perform in various car accident scenarios. The lowest score was two stars, earned by the 2011 Nissan Versa. An additional 22 vehicles will be tested later this year.