NHTSA Places Sales Over Safety in Withholding Crash Tests

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

1825 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 330 Washington, DC 20009-1160 (202) 328-7700

January 5, 2004 (By fax & mail)

Dr. Jeffrey Runge, Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
400 7th Street SW
Washington DC 20590

Dear Dr. Runge:

NHTSA has placed sales over safety by withholding new crash test results for 2004 models from the American buying public for months while giving preferential access to auto makers who can market their less safe new 2004 vehicles to uninformed consumers. Known as the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), NHTSA has done 35-mph rigid front barrier tests since the 1980 model year and 38.5 mph moving barrier side impact tests since the 1997 model year.

When the crash test program was established under the Carter Administration in 1979 for the 1980 model year, the principle was to get out to the public as soon and as widely as possible so that consumers could buy safer cars with better crash worthiness in the free market. The new program quickly reached its heyday in the second year when NHTSA not only released the results on national television but also published a Car Book with the information which quickly became the most popular government guide ever with over a million copies distributed.

The NCAP program has always fared better under Democratic Administrations than under Republican Administrations even though Republicans profess to believe in the free market  perhaps they believe in an uninformed free market which benefits the seller over the buyer. The Carter Administration got the 1980 results out October 15, 1979 and the 1981 results on December 11, 1980 despite publishing them in book form for the first time. During the 12 years of the Reagan and Bush Administrations, only twice did the first NCAP results come out before January  on December 21, 1988 for the 1989 model year and on November 2, 1992 for the 1993 model year. During the Clinton Administration’s 8 years, the NCAP results came out every year before January with the exception of the 1998 model year when they came out on January 23 due to introduction and testing of depowered airbag models.

During the first two years of President George W. Bush’s Administration, performance continued at the Clinton level with the first 2002 and 2003 model year results coming out in early October shortly after the beginning of the model year. But now it’s January 5, 2004 and NHTSA has yet to put out its first release of new 2004 model tests even though it gave the results for at least 19 models to auto makers months ago. The only thing NHTSA has done is to release its list of new models to be tested on November 21 and which models are carry overs from 2003.

NHTSA has developed a cozy little arrangement with auto makers where they get to be at the crash tests, where they get advance results which they can contest if bad or use in their advertisements if good. When NCAP was launched, only NHTSA staff were at the tests and both public and auto companies got the results at the same time. Later in 1982, NHTSA opened the crash tests to the public (DOT Opens Auto Crash Testing to the Public, Feb. 1, 1982) but now it’s auto makers only that get to attend.

We call on you to restore credibility and timeliness to NHTSA’s crash test program by providing equal access for consumers to all NCAP crash test results when they are given to auto makers and to exclude auto makers from the NCAP tests unless the public is given access. Finally we call on you to return to the policy of releasing the first of the new model crash test results in October of each year in time for the millions of consumers to make safe buying decisions in the Fall. We look forward to your response.


Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director
Model Year Release Title Release Date

1980: DOT Car Crash Test Results Announced Oct. 16, 1979

1981: Safety, Performance Data Listed in New DOT Book Prepared for Car Buyers Dec. 11, 1980

1982: DOT Releases New Crash Test Results of 1982 Cars Nov. 18, 1982

1983: NHTSA Releases 1983 Auto Model Crash Test Results July 27, 1983

1984: NHTSA Releases Crash Test Results of 1984 Model Vehicles Feb. 27, 1984

1985: NHTSA Releases First Crash Test Results of 1985 Model Vehicles Mar. 5, 1985

1986: NHTSA Releases Crash Test Results of 1986 Model Vehicles Mar. 12, 1986

1987: NHTSA Releases First Crash Test Results of 1987 Model Vehicles Mar. 6, 1987

1988: NHTSA Releases First Crash Test Results of 1988 Model Vehicles Feb. 5, 1988

1989: NHTSA Releases First Crash Test Results of 1989 Model Vehicles Dec. 21, 1988

1990: NHTSA Releases First 1990 Model Year Crash Test Results Jan. 8, 1990

1991: NHTSA Releases First 1991 Model Year Crash Test Results Feb. 25, 1991

1992: NHTSA Releases First 1992 Model Year Crash Test Results Jan. 16, 1992

1993: NHTSA Release Crash Test Results Applicable to 71 Model Year 1993 Vehicles Nov. 2, 1992

1994: NHTSA Releases First 1994 Crash Test Results In A New Format Dec. 14, 1993

1995: NHTSA Releases First Group of 1995 Crash Test Results Oct. 20, 1994

1996: NHTSA Releases First 1996 Crash Test Results Oct. 25, 1996

1997: NHTSA Releases First 1997 Crash Test Results Dec. 11, 1996

1998 NHTSA Releases First Group of 1998 Crash Test Results Jan. 23, 1998

1999 NHTSA Releases Crash Test Results for Four 1999 Vehicles Dec. 10, 1998

2000: New NHTSA Crash Test Results for Model Year 2000 Passenger Cars Dec. 27, 1999

2001: New Crash Test Results [of 2001 Model Vehicles] Nov. 21, 2000

2002: New Rollover Ratings and New Crash Test Results [of 2002 Model Vehicles] Oct. 9, 2001

2003: Crash Test Results, Rollover Ratings for 2003 Models on NHTSA’s Web Site Oct. 11, 2002