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updated 10/5/2010 9:44:25 AM ET 2010-10-05T13:44:25

No more grade inflation for new cars and trucks.

The Transportation Department is outlining changes Tuesday to the government's 5-Star Safety Rating System that will make it more difficult for new cars and trucks to earn top scores.

Only two of the first 34 vehicles tested under the new program — the 2011 BMW 5 Series and a version of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata — received the top grade of five stars. The Toyota Camry, the best-selling passenger car in the United States, received three stars.

The ratings range from one to five stars, with five stars being the highest and one star being the lowest.

The so-called "Stars on Cars" system, which evaluates vehicles on front-end and side-impact crashes and rollovers, was started in 1979 and has helped generate interest in safety equipment such as side-impact air bags and anti-rollover technology. But the program is being revamped for the 2011 model year because so many vehicles were receiving top marks under the old system, making it difficult to distinguish the best performers.

Typically, more than 90 percent of the vehicles tested under the old system earned four or five stars. In 1979, less than 30 percent received four or five stars.

"More stars equal safer cars," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Through new tests, better crash data and higher standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers."

The new system adds an overall score and takes into account crash-prevention technologies and a new test that simulates a car striking a pole. The overall score combines the results of front, side and rollover tests and compares those results with average risk of injury and the potential for vehicle rollover of other vehicles.

In the latest testing, most of the 33 vehicles reviewed received an overall score of four out of five stars. The 2011 Nissan Versa got two stars while hybrid and conventional versions of the Toyota Camry received three stars. Another 22 vehicles will be tested later this year.

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The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors, Toyota, Ford and other auto companies, said the changes will mean the ratings found on new car labels will probably go down, even in cases where there have been no significant changes to the vehicle.

The trade group said the changes won't allow consumers to compare the scores of vehicles built in the 2010 model year or earlier to new 2011 cars and trucks. Many 2011 vehicles that have not been tested will be labeled as "not rated" or "to be rated," the auto alliance said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Feds overhaul 5-star vehicle rating system

  1. Closed captioning of: Feds overhaul 5-star vehicle rating system

    >>> now to efforts to make cars safer. the government is rolling out a new vehicle safety rating system "toda today, one with tough new standards. tom costello has the details.

    >> reporter: good morning, meredith, most of us are familiar with the government's five star crash system where cars get more stars depending on how well the cars do. so many cars are doing so well t government is changing the system and demanding even better results. for 30 years the government has been crash testing cars and awarding stars. five stars are the best rated cars, one car puts a car at the bottom of the list. but getting five stars just got tougher. the government is now adding side pole crash tests, and for the first time using female crash test dummies in it's evaluations.

    >> if we're raising the bar for safety and we know that there are a lot of women that are driving or passengers in cars, we owe it to them to give them the idea that when they buy a car, they're going to be as safe as males.

    >> reporter: in recent years many vehicles have earned five-star ratings, now cars and trucks must utilize high-tech crash avoidance systems. systems that warn you when you're departing your lane or about to collide with another vehicle. and a new total overall score ranging from one to five. of the 5 models tested, only two earned a five. 29 cars earned a four, two cars earned a three, and one car earned a two, the nissan verse a. colorado state trooper eric winn says cars today almost cocoon people in an accident.

    >> the energy is disbursed through many parts of that vehicle.

    >> reporter: in 2009 , traffic deaths fell to their lowest level since 1950 . a total of 33,800 people died last year, that's nearly 10% fewer deaths than 2008 with when more than 37,000 people died and 9,000 death fewer deaths than in 2005 .

    >> technology has played an incredible role in improving our accident fatality rate.

    >> reporter: and seat belts, today 85% of drivers buckle up. nissan is out with -- testing guidelines are stricter, 2011 model ratings are not comparable to 1990 through 2010 model ratings and it will make adjustments as necessary. experts say you should look at both crash test results, the government's and the insurance institute before you buy a car.

    >>> it is 7:19 and once

Photos: Paris Auto Show: Luxury and economy

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  1. A model poses next to an Alfa Romeo 8C Spider car at the 2010 Paris Auto Show, which is open to the public from Oct. 2 to 17. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Visitors to the 2010 Paris Auto show view new car models on the show floor. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A Peugeot electric concept bike is shown. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The BMW Z4 sDrive35is car is shown at the 2010 Paris Auto Show. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, third from the right, visits the Renault exhibit at the 2010 Paris Auto Show. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Peugeot SR1 concept car is shown. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The new Honda Jazz Hybrid is shown. (Francois Mori / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The Honda 3R-C electric powered concept vehicle. (Francois Mori / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The new Volvo V60 -- a sportier, more stylish type of Volvo -- on display at the show. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The dashboard of a BMW Z4 sDrive35is car is shown. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Kia Pop electric concept car with its unique doors is shown. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. With only a handful scheduled to be built, the Ferrari SA Aperta car is said to be the most exclusive Ferrari ever built. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept car is displayed. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Citroen's Survolt electric concept car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Another view of the Kia Pop’s unique door system. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Citroen's DS3 Racing car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The new Ford Focus ST concept car. (Francois Mori / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The Ford Fiesta RS WRC. (Francois Mori / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Mitsubishi's electric powered I-Miev. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Audi's E-Tron electric powered sports concept car. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler presents the new Audi Quattro concept car. (Laurent Cipriani / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Bugatti President Franz-Josef Paefgen presents the new Bugatti Veyron Supersport. (Laurent Cipriani / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Saab's E-Power electric-powered car. (Francois Mori / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Havas' Chairman Vincent Bollore poses next to a Bollore Blue Car electric car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Peugeot's Ion electric-powered car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Peugeot's BB1 electric-powered concept car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Citroen's C Zero electric car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. With its ultra compact dimensions, Renault's Twizy Zero Emission electric concept car is designed for urban living. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Mini's Countryman World Rally car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Renault's Kangoo Express ZE electric car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Citroen's Revolte electric concept car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Jaguar's C-X75 concept car. (Jacky Naegelen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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