The in­sider

AUS­TRALIA HAS LED THE WAY ON CAR SAFETY SINCE THE VERY BE­GIN­NING. VIC­TO­RIA WAS THE FIRST LEG­IS­LA­TURE IN THE WORLD TO MAKE THE USE OF FIT­TED SEAT­BELTS MANDA­TORY, AS LONG AGO AS 1970 – THE REST OF THE COUN­TRY FOL­LOWED SUIT JUST TWO YEARS LATER.

Wheels (Australia) - - John Carey -

That was five years ahead of Swe­den – where the three-point belt had been in­vented – 13 years ahead of the UK, and a full 19 years in front of those care­free Ital­ians. In the USA, sev­eral states still won’t is­sue fines for non-use of a belt un­less an­other of­fence is also be­ing com­mit­ted. One, New Hamp­shire, doesn’t re­quire them to be fas­tened at all; maybe the state motto of ‘Live Free Or Die’ should be amended with ‘head first, through the wind­screen.’

But nearly 50 years on, our in­ter­est in safety is in dan­ger of be­com­ing an ob­ses­sion. Ar­gu­ing against the work of the Aus­tralasian New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gramme might seem like lob­by­ing for a ban on kit­tens – who doesn’t want cars to get safer? And how hard can un­der­stand­ing a five-star scale be?

Plenty, as it turns out. AN­CAP – and the Eu­ro­pean NCAP test which now shares the same method­ol­ogy – started out test­ing how well cars would pro­tect their oc­cu­pants in the event of a crash. That brief grew over the years, with dif­fer­ent types of im­pact and pas­sen­gers in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, but the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion re­mained what hap­pened when a car reached point X on the in­sur­ance form. But in re­cent years test­ing has been broad­ened and the rules made more opaque, in­creas­ing weight given to the pres­ence and per­for­mance of ac­tive safety sys­tems.

So a car that crashes well can be marked down for not hav­ing some ac­tive tech, while one that per­forms less ably in an im­pact can have its rat­ing in­creased with more giz­mos (see side­bar).

Of course, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to dig down and see how a car does in dif­fer­ent ar­eas, but few buy­ers see be­yond the stars. Nor are they en­cour­aged to: AN­CAP has be­come a val­i­da­tion tick rather than a grad­ing sys­tem, the same way that any­thing less than the full score on a restau­rant’s pub­lic health ticket is taken as a sub­stan­tial risk that you’ll be driv­ing the porce­lain bus. AN­CAP seems to re­gard five stars as the min­i­mum ac­cept­able these days, with cars that don’t make the grade called out for crit­i­cism by the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s punchy chief exec James Good­win.

The strat­egy is work­ing – man­u­fac­tur­ers are find­ing it harder to sell mod­els that don’t get top marks. But it’s also lim­it­ing choice, and mak­ing cars more ex­pen­sive. Ac­tive safety tech adds a sig­nif­i­cant chunk to the price of a cheaper model. If the al­ter­na­tive to fit­ting it is go­ing to be an AN­CAP kick­ing then it makes it more likely the car won’t come here – a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive of a ma­jor player re­cently ad­mit­ted that it’s be­com­ing hard to make the case for bring­ing small mod­els here.

Eu­ro­pean buy­ers seem to be much more will­ing to take a broader view on safety when it comes to less ex­pen­sive mod­els be­ing cho­sen for less oner­ous du­ties. The Citroen C3 (four stars), Toy­ota Aygo (three stars; four with the op­tional ‘safety pack’) and Da­cia Duster (three stars) all sell strongly across the con­ti­nent de­spite their sub-op­ti­mal scores. If we want to keep get­ting more af­ford­able cars, we’re go­ing to learn to see be­yond the stars too.

AN­CAP STARS DON’T AL­WAYS ALIGN Ar­gu­ing against AN­CAP regs might seem like lob­by­ing for a ban on kit­tens – who doesn’t want safer cars?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.