NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The Federal crash-test program may understate rollover and side-impact risks, a newspaper report said Thursday, citing a government study.
The Government Accountability Office, formerly known as the General Accounting Office, said in a report to be released Friday that the National Highway Transportation Association's tests may become obsolete unless they are modified, according to the Wall Street Journal.
NHTSA's crash-test program hasn't been updated sufficiently to keep up with vehicle design changes, specifically to account for high-riding, rollover-prone vehicles like SUVs, said the newspaper.
NHTSA, a unit of the Department of Transportation, crash tests vehicles as part of the New Car Assessment Program, which was established to help consumers make safety comparisons.
According to the newspaper, the program's star system -- vehicles are rated from one to five stars -- worked well at one time, but that most vehicles today receive a top ranking.
"NCAP has contributed to making vehicles safe, but the program is at a crossroads where it will need to change to maintain its relevance," the Journal quoted the report as saying.
Comparing crash-test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety with the government's tests, the study found that results varied greatly between the two, according to the newspaper.
The IIHS, which uses an SUV-height barrier in its side impact crash tests, has given 22 vehicles its lowest ranking, the Journal reported, while the NHTSA test uses a barrier about the size of a compact car and gave 16 of the same vehicles its top score.
The GAO recommended that the safety agency develop a test to rate vehicle incompatibility in front and side crashes as well as one that measures how well vehicles protect occupants in a rollover, which isn't addressed in the current rollover rating.
Rollovers are among the most deadliest crashes, accounting for about 8 percent of accidents but about a third of all occupant fatalities. Given the high risk of fatalities in rollovers, consumer-safety advocates have said the current governments roof-strength and seatbelt-safety standards are inadequate.
The report also criticizes the government-mandated frontal crash test and crash-dummy sizes, the newspaper said.
How to look at crash test ratings
Do rollover ratings tell us enough?