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U.S. weighs new vehicle-safety ratings to help older drivers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Transportation Department said on Thursday it is looking at ways to expand its vehicle safety ratings in response to rapidly changing technology, including the addition of ratings to help inform older drivers.

Innovations such as blind-spot detection and automatic braking in the event of an imminent crash could help prevent accidents, the department said, as it sought public input on how to best update its ratings system.

The agency asked for feedback on how to evaluate the safety of various new technologies and how to compare the features across a variety of vehicles.

While technology is advancing, the population is aging, with more drivers 65 years and older expected to be on the roads in the coming years.

"Typically, older vehicle occupants are less able than younger occupants to withstand crash forces when they are involved in a crash," the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in its notice seeking comments.

The agency is considering a "silver car" rating system to provide crash safety information for these older drivers. This system would be in addition to the agency's primary ratings.

The "silver car" ratings could give higher scores to vehicles that use inflatable seat belts or technologies that prevent drivers from accidentally hitting the wrong pedal.

Since 1978 the government has used a five-star rating system to measure safety for vehicles. Initially the system only included ratings for frontal crashes, but it has been updated over the years to cover side-crash results and other areas.

The public notice issued on Thursday signals the start of the review process for the agency's five-year plan for its safety rating system.

After gathering public comments, the agency will issue a draft plan and possibly a proposal for some near-term updates to the program.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Eric Beech)

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