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Bosch backs incentives for safer cars

Out with the old: One possible way of improving road safety through increased numbers of newer cars is ‘cash for clunkers’, which has reportedly reduced CO2 emissions in Europe.

Lowering average vehicle age key to tackling road toll, says Bosch Australia

General News logo3 Aug 2012


ROBERT Bosch Australia is in favour of reducing the road toll by encouraging drivers of older vehicles to trade up to a newer, safer model and increasing the amount of mandatory safety technology on new cars beyond electronic stability control (ESC).

In an interview with GoAuto Bosch Australia president Gavin Smith suggested this could be achieved by a variety of means including a ‘cash for clunkers’ style scheme, subjecting older cars to mandatory safety inspections and increasing compulsory third party (CTP) insurance premiums for cars not meeting certain safety criteria.

He also called for anti-lock brakes to become mandatory for motorcycles in a similar way ESC was made law on passenger cars in Victoria from January 1, 2011 and Australia-wide from November 2011.

Mr Smith referred to the Australian Transport Council’s road safety strategy report published last year that said the risk of death or serious injury in a crash when travelling in a car built in 2007 is about half that of a car built in 1987.

“Shouldn’t we try to help the owners to try and find a path to getting into a newer car by giving them some incentive to get rid of the old one?” asked Mr Smith.

80 center imageLeft: Bosch's Gavin Smith.

“Maybe 1987 is not the right date but there are certainly cars that don’t have ABS, don’t have airbags and certainly in terms of their general crash performance are very low so we would like to see, let’s call it a younging of the vehicle parc (fleet).”

Cash for clunkers schemes operated in Europe as economic stimulus measures have reportedly had the side-effect of reducing average vehicle CO2 emissions.

If such a scheme was managed carefully in Australia, for example making only vehicles with a five-star ANCAP safety rating or a certain level of standard safety equipment eligible for the incentive, it fits that it could yield significant improvement to the road toll.

“I think (cash for clunkers based on safety) would be a very good initiative to get less safe cars off the road and newer cars replacing them,” said Mr Smith.

While such a scheme would no doubt drive new car sales, it could be applied to used vehicles that meet certain standards, making it more affordable for people to replace their cars and providing greater choice.

“There is always the argument that people can’t afford to replace their cars and that is quite true so we have to make sure there are not unintended consequences that people suddenly can’t afford to drive when they need to drive, so that is something we would need to carefully study,” said Mr Smith.

“If it was more expensive and more difficult to keep older cars on the road, it might encourage a replacement cycle.”

Mr Smith’s stance echoes that of ANCAP, which believes the proliferation of safer vehicles and the retirement of older, unsafe vehicles will make a significant contribution to improving the road toll – which currently stands at around five deaths per day and 85 serious injuries – including two permanent injuries.

The proportion of crash-tested cars receiving a five-star ANCAP result has steadily increased from 14 per cent between 2000 and 2004, leaping to 40 per cent in 2008 then climbing to 62 per cent in 2009-2010 and 72 per cent in 2011.

“There are lots of things we think can be done,” said Mr Smith. “The vehicle parc in Australia is too old, we don’t have any means to encourage people to bring their cars up to a newer level.

“If it was more expensive and more difficult to keep older cars on the road, it might encourage a replacement cycle.”

Mr Smith said the technology fitted to newer cars, such as ESC, is proven to save lives and praised the Victorian government for having “literally led the world in making stability control mandatory”.

“The results are in world-wide, stability control saves lives so by Victoria bringing it in one year earlier than the rest of Australia that means for the next decade, less people will die on Victorian roads than would have otherwise been the case.”

However he said more can be done, citing motorcycle ABS as a logical next step.

“The evidence is also in that you can save significant numbers of lives if ABS is fitted on motorcycles so we think that similarly to the approach taken with stability control, motorcycle ABS should become mandatory as well.

“Anything we can do in vehicles to prevent human error or reduce the impact of human error is a good thing.”

Mr Smith also believes a higher number of older cars on Australia’s roads equates to a higher number of poorly-maintained vehicles.

“Anecdotally we know that cars outside the manufacturer’s warranty period are serviced less and that over time as the (car’s value) comes down to a lower level it becomes uneconomical to service,” he said.

“People therefore resist spending money, even on basic safety items like tyres, suspension, bearings, bushes, headlights, wipers let alone (checking) the stability control is still working.

“We have experiences where people take their car in for repairs and are told the ABS unit needs to be replaced but sometimes don’t bother and leave it non-functioning, so the car still runs and yes it will stop but the ABS won’t operate.”

Bosch is lobbying for and recommending a study into the benefits of introducing annual vehicle inspections Australia-wide and Mr Smith recently hit out at a lack of testing for safety features such as ESC and airbags in existing inspections.

“Airbags have been in cars for decades, stability control has been in cars for decades and we don’t check to see if it’s functioning like we check the seatbelts,” he said.

“We should at least bring the inspection standards, where they exist, to a level where the vehicles and technology are.”

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