Update: Federal officials have revealed changes to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), which will now consolidate front and side impact and rollover results into one rating, simulate striking a pole with a vehicle and include female crash dummies. The new rating system will also include testing for risk of leg injury and reporting whether vehicles have safety technology. The new regulations take effect for the 2010 model year, federal regulators said today.

A revamped NCAP sticker also will include an overall safety rating for each vehicle that consolidates results from the front-, side- and pole impact and rollover tests. Vehicles currently get separate ratings for each test.

The sticker also will reveal whether the vehicle is fitted with three technologies the NHTSA deems important: electronic stability control, lane departure warning systems and forward collision warning systems. The new testing system is expected to some vehicle’s safety ratings downgraded.

Original: The U.S. government is planning to announce changes today for crash test safety ratings in an effort to offer more guidance for car shoppers. Federal crash test ratings, first introduced in 1979, have helped accelerate the adoption of safety technologies in new cars and trucks to the point where a majority of vehicles are now earning four or five stars. Safety advocates argue that it has become difficult for consumers to compare the safety features of vehicles.

Transportation officials want to see the ratings take into account a broad range of collision avoidance technologies and make the crash test results more meaningful for new car buyers, reports The Detroit News. Both carmakers and suppliers have been seeking changes in the rating system to better reflect the benefits of installing safety features such as electronic stability control and anti-rollover technology.

The new ratings system is also expected to factor in the ability of vehicles to guard against upper leg injuries in crashes, and should first come into effect for the 2010 model year.

When the ratings system was first launched, nearly half the tested vehicles scored either one or two stars. Today, roughly 95% of tested vehicles receive four or five stars. This gives consumers little choice to choose a safer model over a lesser rated model, reducing the pressure on manufacturers to improve.