Federal transportation safety officials announced updated guidelines for how automakers, car dealers and ad agencies can advertise government safety ratings.
The new rules were created after Tesla Motors Inc., the electric car maker in Palo Alto, Calif., announced in August that its Model S earned a 5.4-star safety rating from the government.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new guidelines for its 5-Star Safety Ratings Program now state that ratings are always whole numbers and that the administration does not award a rating higher than five stars. Advanced technologies are not part of the star ratings.
The new guidelines, which don't mention Tesla or any other automakers, also state that advertisers should not use terms such as "double 5-star rating" when a vehicle has achieved a five-star rating for both the driver and right-front passenger positions.
Advertisers who claim more than five stars are misleading the public, the NHTSA said. Advertisements that do not conform to the guidelines may result in "buyer alert"warnings, removal from the ratings program or referral to other federal or state authorities for appropriate action.
The government ratings program is separate from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's ratings program, which includes the "Top Safety Pick" and "Top Safety Pick+" designations. The institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on performance in five crash tests, and posts ratings at www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings.
The NHTSA ratings program lets consumers search crash test ratings at www.safercar.gov. Each vehicle tested can receive safety ratings in a frontal crash, side crash, and rollover resistance, in addition to an overall rating. One star represents the lowest score and five stars represents the highest. The program also highlights advanced crash-avoidance technologies, such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and rearview video systems.
"Our 5-Star Safety Ratings Program serves as one of the most trusted and reliable resources to help the driving public select vehicles based on unbiased safety ratings," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a press statement. "That's why today we released updated guidelines aimed at ensuring consumers receive accurate and consistent information regarding vehicle safety ratings."
The NHTSA plans to rate about 87 percent of model year 2014 vehicles sold in the United States for frontal and side crash protection, and 92 percent for rollover resistance. A number of model year 2014 vehicles had carry-over designs from the previous model year or have already been tested. The NHTSA will test 48 vehicles for the 2014 model year, including 22 passenger cars, 18 sport utility vehicles, five pickups, and three vans.