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Australasia’s ANCAP car safety program plans to promote driver assist technologies

Australasia’s ANCAP car safety program plans to promote driver assist technologies Subaru Forester 2013, a 5 star SUV
Tristan Honeywill

When the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) first started crash testing cars in 1993, the car safety organisation faced an enormous struggle. Its testing showed that the vehicles on sale posed serious, life-threatening risks. Few cars fitted airbags and many deformed uncontrollably in a collision. Manufacturers were also unsupportive and dismissive of ANCAP’s safety ratings.

This has changed, to a degree. ANCAP has succeeded in encouraging car makers to take safety more seriously and its ratings have helped inform consumers. Buyers now look for the maximum five-star rating when they buy a new vehicle.

Next on ANCAP’s agenda are plans to ensure that accident prevention technologies become standard fit on new cars as soon as possible, and increase the number of five-star rated utes available to Australian consumers. Car Safety Rules spoke to the head of ANCAP, Nicholas Clarke, to find out more.

How have attitudes to safety changed since the 1990s?

In ‘93, very few Australians considered safety when buying a new vehicle and advertising by manufacturers tended to focus on performance, speed, power and technology. Safety wasn’t really mentioned. There was also a general misconception that “cars that crumple are ‘made of plastic’ and are not as safe as older, more solid cars”.

These days safety is just as important as price. It’s a top priority for Australian consumers and around 70% of all the new vehicles sold have a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Buyers ask for the safety rating before they buy. Government and many organisations are also demanding a minimum five-star ANCAP safety rating for their fleets.

What’s the impact been on accidents and injuries?

Having safer cars available for buyers has helped to reduce the number of lives lost unnecessarily on our roads. In the early 1990s around 2000 lives were lost each year in crashes. This has dropped by around a third to 1300 last year. There’s still much more that can be done.

Safety assist technologies like electronic stability control (ESC), autonomous emergency braking (AEB), systems that keep drivers safely in their lane and adaptive cruise control (ACC) will further lower the death rate. By avoiding crashes, ESC has contributed greatly to the number of lives saved. Introducing AEB is likely to have a similar effect.

What do Australians want from their next family car?

Vehicle safety is the top priority for families and demand for cars with five-star safety is at its highest level ever. The bulk of enquiries we get are from soon-to-be parents upgrading their car to ensure they have the maximum safety possible. Similarly, growing numbers of parents with young drivers are making five-star safety their top requirement when they research makes and models for their children. Car buyers should accept nothing less than five stars for their new car.

Nicholas Clarke, head of ANCAPGovernment and many organisations are also demanding a minimum five-star ANCAP safety rating for their fleets

Nicholas Clarke, head of ANCAP

What is the situation with ISOFIX there?

Europe is way ahead of Australia when it comes to ISOFIX. The Australian Government has recently introduced requirements for new vehicles to be fitted with ISOFIX anchorages. It’s expected to become law in the coming months, but ISOFIX seats are not yet available in Australia.


What do Australia’s ute drivers want in their vehicles?

Utes, Australian work horses, often double as family transport. They are a big part of the market here: close to 200,000 of all the 1.1 million vehicles sold last year. They have long been a big part of our test program.

The first ones we crash-tested in 1995 got poor results with cabins collapsing severely and similar, poor results have continued right up until recently. Generally, utes’ safety ratings lag behind cars and SUVs. Just two years ago there were no five-star utes on the market, there are now a small number, but fewer than one in three new models achieve five-star safety.

This is going to change. More and more governments and big companies are only buying vehicles for their fleets that have a five-star rating.


What are you doing to help promote safety assist technologies in Australia and New Zealand?

We’re working with our labs to develop tests for these technologies so that we can assess and rate their effectiveness. The first will likely be autonomous emergency braking (AEB). These systems can alert the driver to an imminent crash and intervene to either prevent a crash or to reduce the impact speed.

If we can encourage the fast adoption of new technologies like AEB, we could see our road death toll cut in half by 2020. Looking at their effect in Europe and the US, we believe the technology could be as effective as seatbelts in saving lives. We’d like to see this fitted to every single new car as standard.

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