Just how safe is your clas­sic car?

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS -

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.

Used im­ports

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.

In­ter­est­ing points

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!

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