Federal highway safety officials are considering telling consumers how well the brakes work on new cars, sport utilities and pickups, including how quickly the vehicles stop.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials are studying whether to include the braking information when they release the results of their crash tests on new vehicles each year."There is a (public) demand for braking performance information," George Soodoo, head of the NHTSA division that develops and maintains standards for brakes and other auto parts, said in an interview Wednesday.
About 55 percent of safety complaints received by the agency are related to braking systems. And focus groups used by the agency indicate consumers want a simple measure of how quickly various cars, sport utilities and pickups can stop, Soodoo said.
But relative stopping distances are not in popular new-car buying guides.
The agency is testing vehicles to determine a brake performance measure and officials will decide at the end of next year whether to go ahead.
Soodoo said the Japanese government has been providing information to consumers since 1995 about how long it takes cars to stop on an asphalt surface in wet and dry conditions. He said the tests "show some promise as information we might provide to consumers."
Consumer groups applauded the move as a way to increase public safety and highlight potential safety problems with heavier vehicles.
"It's tremendous (because) it deals with avoiding crashes," said Gerald Donaldson, research director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
"Consumers would find that the braking ability in large sport utility vehicles is not nearly as good as a car," he said. "Hopefully, that will give them pause."
But automakers expressed concern the government agency was stepping beyond its role of setting safety standards for vehicles.
"What people are looking for from government is reassurance the vehicles are safe," said Sue Cischke, Chrysler Corp.'s executive director of vehicle safety. "If you're asking . . . (federal regulators) to be the systems engineer for the vehicle, I'm not sure that's right for the consumer. It could be very confusing."
The agency now releases results of safety crash tests on vehicles in head-on and side-impact collisions.