The staggering array of cars on the market is both exciting and confusing to the consumer, yet most of us have one benchmark that helps to narrow the options: price.
That can mean we compromise on a lot of the desirables, such as features, performance, even size.
Once – and not all that long ago, either – it might have also meant a compromise on safety. But thanks to a long and concerted push by governments, road authorities and other motoring bodies, a lot of the safest cars on the road are no longer restricted to the most expensive.
ANCAP – the Australasian New Car Assessment Program – emphasises that in its ratings of the safety performance of hundreds of new vehicles on the market, there are those with the highest five-star rating in all vehicle categories.
“We want consumers to buy the safest car they can afford,” says ANCAP’s chief executive James Goodwin. “Fortunately, a far greater percentage of the market achieves the five-star score than we would have seen five or so years ago. We want consumers all to be in five-star cars.”
But there are five-star cars and there are five-star cars. ANCAP continues to raise the bar on what safety systems and crash performance a car must have to achieve five stars.
It has begun to date-stamp the ratings that are seen both on its website but also where manufacturers use them in their marketing and point-of-sale material.
More than 100 ANCAP-rated cars now carry that important date-stamp. “The date-stamp element (e.g. Tested 2016) signifies the year requirements against which a vehicle has been tested,” Mr Goodwin says. “We’d encourage consumers to consider the testing date as a means of knowing which standards their prospective buy has been tested against, because a lot can change in just a few years.”
For instance, to achieve five stars in 2011, a vehicle had to meet structural requirements to give a high level of protection to its occupants in a crash plus three additional safety technologies: electronic stability control (ESC), three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, and head-protecting airbags for the front seats.
These features still apply in 2017 but to them a raft of additional safety features have been added:
- Emergency brake assist, which detects if a driver is trying to make an emergency stop and applies full braking force until the ABS (which is part of all ESC systems) takes over to prevent wheel-lock.
- A minimum whiplash rating of Good, the highest of four under ANCAP.
- A minimum pedestrian rating of Acceptable, the second-highest rating. The Pedestrian Test measures the likely injuries to be caused to a pedestrian when struck by a vehicle as determined by its design, e.g. whether it has an active bonnet.
- Seatbelt reminders for all front and second-row seats.
- Head-protecting airbags for the second row of seats.
- A minimum of six further SATs – safety assist technologies – from a list of more than 40 available to car makers today. These can include: autonomous emergency braking; adaptive cruise control; fatigue detection; automatic headlights; blind-spot monitor; tyre pressure monitoring.
In 2018 the bar will be raised again, with some new tests plus updates to existing tests. For example, as well as the frontal offset test which simulates a collision with another vehicle at a 40% offset, cars will be crash-tested full-width into a wall to simulate a head-on collision. And the test trolley for the side-impact test will be heavier, stiffer and wider, to reflect the greater weight of modern vehicles. The speed for the pole-impact test will be increased to 32km/h and the angle at which it strikes will change to 75 degrees to more closely reflect a real-world run-off-road crash. And the latest crash-test dummies will be used for more realistic injury risk results.
But the big difference in 2018 will be performance-testing of SATs. “Currently the vehicle just has to have the technology fitted,” James Goodwin says. “From 2018 we will be testing how well these technologies work.”
The two SATs they will be looking at most closely are autonomous emergency braking and the various lane-keeping systems. “It will be very hard to get five stars without both of these,” Mr Goodwin adds.
ANCAP has found another procedure to encourage standards to be maintained. “We’ve commenced audit testing of cars, where we can re-test a vehicle to see if it still meets requirements of the five-star threshold,” Mr Goodwin says. “We’re keeping manufacturers on their toes.”