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Just How Safe Is Your New Car?

Most modern cars have safety features that weren’t even thought of when this writer was a child.  Back then, most cars had safety belts front and back – although a few didn’t have any in the back seat – and most of those seatbelts had adjustment features similar to bra straps, although the posh new ones had those automatically adjustable ones that seized up if you tried to pull them on in a hurry or if you tried to put them on while going around a corner.  You couldn’t find an airbag anywhere in any of the cars that I rode in as a child, or even in the ones that I learned to drive in, and I don’t think any of them had ABS brakes,
either.

Well, times have certainly changed and cars have more and more safety features: ABS brakes, pretensioned seatbelts, anti-submarining seat design, crumple zones, brake assistance, stability control and all the rest of it.  A few marques have even turned the level of safety into a marketing edge: while some tout their superior speed and power over the competition, other manufacturers – most notably Saab and Volvo, with others like Renault, Citroën and Toyota catching on – push the safety of their vehicles as their most notable feature.

But how safe, exactly, is your new car or the car you’re thinking about buying?  One way to find out is to visit  http://www.howsafeisyourcar.com.au/, which is a website set up by the Transport Accident Commission of the Victorian state
government.  This site draws on ANCAP statistics to rate new cars hitting the Australian market and also USCR (Used Car  Safety Ratings) figures.  This saves you the hassle of trawling through oodles of crash testing videos and figures, allowing you to find the make and model of vehicle you’re interested in and see how it scores.  You’ll get the overall star rating (five is the best, for those who aren’t familiar with the ANCAP system or its European equivalent, Euro NCAP) plus a more detailed breakdown detailing how the car performed in the frontal offset test (where the car is rammed into a pillar that hits the driver’s side at 64 km/h, simulating the typical front-on accident), the side impact crash test (where a heavy trolley is smacked into the side of a car at 50 km/h to simulate a T-bone collision) and the pole test (which is optional but simulates side-swiping a tree by ramming a concrete pole into the side of the test vehicle at 29 km/H).  You are also given a breakdown on how well the driver and front passenger are protected, using a colour-coded diagram.  Last, but definitely not least, you also get a checklist of all the safety features that are present (or should be) on the vehicle.  And, because safety isn’t just about drivers but about pedestrians and air quality, you also can see the rating for pedestrian safety and the “green vehicle guide” (fuel consumption, carbon emissions, etc.).  Those who really want to see the full details also have the option of downloading a pdf with the full report.

The maximum number of points that can be scored on each of the main tests (frontal offset and side impact) is 16, and a car has to score 12.5 or more in both of them to get a five-star rating.  More points can be picked up via the pole test and by having seatbelt warnings.  A score of 32.5 gets a five-star rating, as long as one of those points came from the pole test.  A modern  ehicle (i.e. one made after 2008) has to have electronic stability control as well in order to get the full five stars.

To give an example of how the system works, let’s have a look at how a couple of recent models that earned five stars at this site performed: the 2011 Holden Barina, the 2011 BMW X3 and the 2011 Audi A6.

The Holden Barina scored 35.43 out of 37 points as follows:

  • Side impact test: 16/16
  • Frontal offset test: 15.43 out of 16
  • Pole test: 2/2
  • Other points: 2/3

The BMW X3 scored 34.58 out of 37 points as follows:

  • Side impact test: 16/16
  • Frontal offset test: 14.58/16
  • Pole test: 2/2
  • Other points: 2/3

The Audi A6 scored 34.91 out of 37 as follows:

  • Side impact test: 15/16
  • Frontal offset test: 14.91/16
  • Pole test: 2/2
  • Other points: 3/3

Every new car that we have listed here at Private Fleet can be checked out for safety, as well as a few that we don’t list (not that there’s many of those!).  The site also lists a large range of older cars that are likely to be bought in the second-hand market
(going back to 1990).  Have a go yourself at the website to find out just how safe the car you learnt to drive on scored
safety-wise and wonder how you managed to survive.  The Ford Falcon and the VW Beetle I had my first lessons weren’t in the list – the ones I got to drive were older than the 1990 model, but I won’t say more than that so I don’t give away my age too
much.

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