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New app tracks auto recalls, safety ratings

NHTSA launches its SaferCar app.
NHTSA launches its SaferCar app.Courtesy NHTSA

Wondering whether that new car you’re interested in is up to snuff on the safety front? Or perhaps you’re not sure if the jalopy in your driveway was subject to a recent recall.

Now there’s an easy way to find out simply by firing up your iPhone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released a new smartphone app called SaferCar that will let you quickly check vehicle safety ratings, track recalls, check the latest safety headlines and even get help properly installing that cumbersome child safety seat.

"Safety is our highest priority, and we're always working to find new and better ways for people to access SaferCar," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "This app takes advantage of the latest technology to ensure that consumers have the real-time information they need to buy safe, drive safe and stay safe."

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For the moment, the free app is only offered for mobile iOS devices like the Apple iPhone, though a version for Android phones and tablets is also under development, according to NHTSA.

Meanwhile, the federal auto safety agency now plans to open up the software and data files behind SaferCar so that the information can be incorporated in other mobile apps.

The idea behind SaferCar is to “buy safe, drive safe and stay safe,” NHTSA said. The agency is betting that motorists will make better use of its information if they can readily access it, say, when actually out shopping for a new vehicle.

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Key information offered on the app includes:

  • safety ratings. Consumers can check to see how individual vehicles fared in NHTSA crash tests.
  • recalls and complaints. The app will not only show a consumer what recalls any vehicle might be subject to but also allow an owner to file a safety complaint.
  • child seats. Studies show a large share of parents don’t properly install their child seats. The app can help a motorist do it right.
  • safety headlines. The app offers alerts on various safety-related news.

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"Timely, accurate, and accessible safety data is the lifeblood of our agency's work," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "The new SaferCar app literally puts the latest in vehicle safety information directly in the hands of consumers so they can make the appropriate purchasing and other decisions for themselves and their families."

The SaferCar app is offered for free at the Apple Store.

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