Just how safe is your classic car?
Acouple of news reports have caught my attention recently, but, before I get into those, I’m mindful of the fact that ‘ fake news’ is now a regular feature of the stuff we used to think was actual news — in other words, actual truthful reporting. We now know that everything you might read in the papers is not necessarily true any more (hang on, didn’t I say that in my previous article?), so what I’m saying here has to be taken in that context.
The headline that first caught my attention was one that read, “Kiwis twice as likely to die in pre 2000s cars”. Apparently, this statement was based on a new safety test conducted by independent vehicle-safety advocate Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP). The test involved a 2015-built Toyota Corolla crashing into a 1998 Toyota Corolla. The picture accompanying the story certainly showed the 1998 model coming off far worse than its modern counterpart. The same story then quoted our own NZTA data, which showed that cars built before 2000, which comprise 40 per cent of New Zealand’s cars and SUVS, were involved in 57 per cent of fatalities.
The article went on to say that cars built between 2010 and 2015, which apparently comprise 17 per cent of New Zealand vehicles, represented only 10 per cent of fatalities. The AA’S general manager then went on to say that older vehicles are significantly overrepresented in crashes that result in death, and that Kiwis need to have newer cars. The AA general manager said that, as vehicle manufacturers are playing their part by building better, safer cars packed full of crash prevention technology, the average age of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet must reduce significantly. It was that last comment that made me smell the proverbial rat. For as long as I can remember (which is all the way back to last Tuesday!) new car retailers here in New Zealand have been pushing this same barrow, which makes one wonder whether this whole story was just a thinly veiled cover to get the old message across, which is that they need to sell more new cars. Standing in direct opposition to this concept, of course, is the Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association Incorporated (IMVIA), which represents used-car importers. One thing which both these groups have in common is they want us to change our cars more frequently than we do, which recently kicked over to once every 14 years.
When the used-import industry started to kick in, in the mid to late 1980s, local vehicle retailers didn’t want a bar of them until it was evident that potential buyers were circumnavigating them, and going on buying sorties to Japan to buy a goodquality import for a fraction of the price that they could expect to pay for that car here in New Zealand. So, it wasn’t long before said used-car retailers lobbied to get the rules changed so they, too, could get a piece of the action — and the rest, as they say, is history.
The evidence of how successful the used-import trade was can be seen in the NZTA’S own 2008 statistics. By far and away the biggest numbers of so-called older cars were represented in the 10- to 15-year-old category. The total for those six years inclusive was 1,127,553 back in 2008, out of a total car fleet of 2,789,676, which was just less than half.
Safety certainly wasn’t a feature back then, and one of the first casualties on an import was its emission-control system, which was removed prior to sale, as it impeded performance. Remember who made the loudest noises when the government (read, ‘new vehicle manufacturers’) wanted frontal safety standards introduced? And for how long was the implementation of those standards delayed, and why? Seemingly, there were warehouses full of yet-to-be-sold imports, which would have been unable to be registered under the new standards — from memory, the new frontal impact standards rule was delayed for nearly five years. So, my deep philosophical question is, exactly where did ‘concern for vehicle safety’ figure in those decisions?
My own research showed that nearly 80 per cent of cancelled registrations in any one recent year were for vehicles fewer than 10 years old! So, by my calculations, the remaining 20 per cent were for vehicles older than 10 years. We can believe that a vehicle’s registration is usually cancelled because it has been written off following an accident. Which means, surely, that older cars (that is, more than 10 years old) are far less likely to be involved in a crash than newer cars! Yes, I know I’ve deviated on to crashes not necessarily involving death, but my point is that why are we now going down that road again, that we must all get newer vehicles? The government had the opportunity as far back as the mid 1980s to make giant steps into advancing vehicle safety, but was dissuaded by interested-party lobby groups.
And on that note, another headline I read went along the lines of in no more than eight years’ time, none of us will have a car, or even drive one. That had to be fake news, surely? Exactly which landfill will be used to place our current vehicle fleet of 3 million cars or so? Down here in Christchurch, we have a city councillor who thinks that we should all ride bicycles, and our streets are already being turned into cycleways. Maybe someone has been sharing the happy-baccy around?
If anyone in authority thinks the future lies in driverless cars, the recent cyber scare should remind those in power that if we are going to totally rely on computers for operating our vehicles, we will be at the mercy of the hacker. And where does our safety feature in driverless vehicle technology, if anyone can hack the vehicle we are in?
Back in the 1980s, I remember that Volvo had developed a vehicle body which was designed to protect the passengers in the event of a crash. And, as I recall, the world’s motoring press hailed Volvo as being one of the safest cars in the world. So, how come it is no longer safe, simply because the car is now just over 30 years old?
And what about the good old Zephyrs? In 1977, some clown in a Ford Transit rammed me through the traffic lights (I’d stopped for the red light, and he’d wanted to go through on the red). I got a small dent in the back rear guard, and his Transit van was towed away. I don’t really want to have a prang in either of them to prove a point, but surely the idea is to drive carefully, and thus avoid crashes? Of course you can’t legislate against ‘stupid’. As such, it is becoming harder and harder for the drivers of modern cars with all those distractions such as ipads, GPS screens, and the like, whereas we classic car drivers just have to hold on to the steering wheel, watch the road ahead, and enjoy the drive! Now, watch someone come along and stuff everything up, simply because someone needs to sell more cars.
Drive carefully, while you are still allowed to!