In 2016, Consumer Reports’ policy and mobilization experts fought hard to help ensure that you and your loved ones would be safe on the road. We campaigned for protection from faulty cars, fought for tougher tests, and championed stricter accountability for companies that were intentionally deceiving consumers. 

Making Recall Reform Real

As recently as early 2016, it was still legal for car-rental companies to let customers drive off the lot in vehicles with open recalls. That changed on June 1, when the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2015 took effect.

As part of the legislation, rental cars under a safety recall must be repaired before a customer is handed the keys. Consumer Reports was an aggressive advocate for the law, working with members of Congress and allied safety groups to generate support.

Tougher Safety Scores

CR was pleased to see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announce a plan to bolster its New Car Assessment Program, or NCAP, which evaluates new automobile designs for performance against various safety threats.

In recent years, a high percentage of vehicles have received four or five stars in the NCAP five-star safety ratings. As a result, we expressed concern to NHTSA that these ratings were no longer meaningful to consumers and encouraged the agency to make the program more rigorous.

The government’s proposed changes would be the most significant enhancements to the program since its creation in 1979 and would make the ratings easier for consumers to understand, all while creating a powerful incentive for automakers to make the latest lifesaving technology available on more vehicles more quickly. We commend NHTSA for hearing the criticism and taking action, and urge the agency to finalize the changes.

Fuel-Efficiency Victory

The announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalizing the fuel-economy standards for passenger cars and trucks through model year 2025 is a big win for consumers. With these strong, achievable targets, consumers can expect a significant reduction in fuel expenses, more choice in fuel-efficient vehicles, and protection from future spikes in gas prices. Automakers are already beating fuel-economy standards even as they enjoy record sales. And though new EPA leadership may seek to reverse the standards, CR will continue to work hard to protect them.

Fairness for Fraud Victims

After Volkswagen was exposed for intentionally installing software to circumvent emissions control systems, CR vehemently called for a settlement that ensured that Volkswagen owners got restitution. The final agreement did give them the choice of what to do with their faulty cars while getting significant cash compensation regardless of their decision. We also commend the Justice Department for its ongoing investigation of executives.

But in the wake of this settlement, the EPA accused Fiat Chrysler of installing similar software in 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0-liter diesel engines sold in the U.S. Consumer Reports will be watching this troubling case of déjà vu.

More Challenges for 2017

The protection of our personal data is now a critical element of motor vehicle safety, particularly as cars come to rely on electronics and software-based systems. CR submitted comments to NHTSA as it sets guidelines for car-based cybersecurity.

What’s more, emerging technology now allows cars to drive themselves or operate semi-autonomously. This technology may be promising in the long term, but in the immediate future, without proper oversight, it raises serious safety concerns. And new federal guidelines on automated systems are neither comprehensive nor mandatory. Read more about how CR is pushing for better answers in Self-Driving Cars: Driving Into the Future.

Editor's note: This article also appeared in the April 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.