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Don’t be blind to safety: NRMA
Encroaching design rules may be having a negative effect on driver vision
14 Apr 2009
By IAN PORTER
STRINGENT crash safety standards and increasingly steep windscreen angles in pursuit of economy have led to an unseen danger – poor visibility – according to a leading motor insurer.
NRMA Insurance head of research Robert McDonald said thicker front pillars that slope back closer to the driver were making it difficult for drivers to see some other road users, even at close quarters.
A uniform test of 138 new vehicles showed that 80 per cent scored only one or two stars out of a possible five, Mr McDonald said.
The test used a laser rotating through 180 degrees at driver’s eye level.
The highest score was four stars, but only two vehicles managed to achieve it: the Volkswagen Golf small car and the Citroen C4 Picasso people-mover.
Australia’s biggest-selling vehicle, the Holden Commodore, scored only one star, as did the high-selling Toyota Yaris and the highly acclaimed Honda Accord. Other popular cars such as the Ford Falcon and Toyota Corolla, plus a range of luxury cars, managed only two stars.
Left: VW Golf.
Mr McDonald conceded that vehicle manufacturers faced a difficult problem in meeting crash safety standards while providing the maximum possible visibility for drivers.
“Modern vehicle design has improved the safety of cars for drivers and passengers remarkably in recent years,” he said. “But manufacturers may need to help drivers on the road by striking a better balance between crash safety and visibility.” He said that in some one-star cars, a pedestrian or a cyclist could be lost in a blind spot when as close as nine metres from the car.
A whole vehicle can be hidden as close as 20 metres away.
The results turned up some anomalies. For example, while the Golf top-scored with four stars, its close cousin the Audi A3 hatch managed only two stars.
Mr McDonald said he hoped manufacturers could keep these blind spot measurements in mind when designing new vehicles, although crash safety was still the highest priority.
“While blind spots can be dangerous, the last thing we would want to see is cars that have good visibility but poor protection in a serious crash,” he said. “When drivers approach intersections – particularly roundabouts – it is very easy to lose sight of a car as you give way.
“Drivers should always be aware of the blind spots on their cars and be prepared to move their heads to look around them when necessary.
“We would also encourage consumers to consider all aspects of vehicle safety – including visibility – when purchasing a vehicle.”
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