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Published: Tuesday, 5/24/2005

Stars on cars

IT TOOK a U.S. Senator from Ohio to do what consumer groups tried for years to accomplish and couldn't. Sen. Mike DeWine pushed a significant safety measure for car consumers through to likely passage in Congress. The Republican's success at including a rule in the recently passed highway bill to require federal crash-test information on all new car stickers is laudatory.

If the $295 billion highway package becomes law, the consumer provision championed by Senator DeWine will help new car buyers better evaluate the safety records of a vehicle with critical test information added to other sticker details.

The results of government crash-safety and rollover ratings are available on the Internet and some publications but this is the first time Congress will require the material on every new car sticker. The goal is to promote an informed consumer at the point of purchase.

Citizens already pay for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to test all new models and release findings to appropriate venues. "Nonetheless," argued Mr. DeWine, "this information is not available to the American consumer in the one place where it would make a difference-where you buy the car, at the dealership."

The government spends millions every year testing the ability of cars and trucks to withstand collisions and rollovers and rating performance on a five-star scale. The "stars on cars" labeling will give car consumers that information right up front along with a vehicle's price, fuel efficiency and other pertinent data.

Auto industry officials are concerned that buyers will be overloaded with too much information when the safety ratings are added to limited sticker space. Not to worry. Buyers can handle it.

Besides, what big-ticket shopper wouldn't want to know how likely a vehicle is to roll over or fare in a side or front collision before spending thousands to drive it home?

Consumer advocates cheer the advancement of sticker safety ratings and hope the development even encourages Detroit to make safer vehicles. Anything that helps to reduce the number of motor-vehicle fatalities, which took nearly 43,000 lives in 2004, or lessens the likelihood of injuries, which nearly 2.8 million suffered last year, must be aggressively pursued.

Ohio's senior senator, who lost his own daughter in a car accident years ago, has done his part.

Car consumers who stand to receive valuable safety information to make better-informed buying decisions are in his debt.

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