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Stars to safety

Sticker shock: ANCAP wants safety ratings like this on all new cars.

Peak national crash test body ANCAP pushes for a mandate on crash safety ratings

General News logo27 May 2008

HOW well a new vehicle protects its occupants and pedestrians in a crash will soon be displayed on every new car’s windscreen, if the Australian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) gets its way.

ANCAP chairman Lauchlan McIntosh has told GoAuto that such a proposal had already been submitted to state ministers for consideration.

“We have a proposal to put labels on the cars with star ratings and that was announced at the May meeting of the Australian Transport Council (ATC),” he said.

The ATC’s May meeting agenda included looking at investigation of the national ‘stars on cars’ program to provide consumers with safety ratings on new light vehicles (in consultation with industry). The outcome of the meeting has not yet been announced.

Mr McIntosh said the star ratings would ideally be affixed to the windscreen on the same sticker as the existing mandated fuel consumption ratings.

Last year, the US federal government made it mandatory to have safety ratings on all new cars at the point of sale. Manufacturers do the testing and supply the information.

ANCAP has already approached manufacturers to give then labels or tags to be fitted voluntarily to their new cars. So far, only Subaru has taken up the offer of fitting the tags to all its new vehicles.

All Subaru cars have the highest rating possible – five stars. Not all manufacturers do so well.

“No-one wants to sell a three-star car,” Mr McIntosh said.

The safety advocate believes that it is not in everybody’s nature to want to research a new car’s crashworthiness.

“People, when they buy a car, don’t want to know about having a crash,” Mr McIntosh said, adding that although buyers might not wish to linger on the subject of a new car’s crashworthiness, certain realities must be addressed.

“The reality is crashes do happen, other people cause crashes and you don’t necessarily need to be injured.

“So crashworthiness of the car is a very important factor. There is a big difference in the relative crashworthiness of cars, and we tend to overlook it.

“NCAP is an excellence standard. There’s the ADR (Australian Design Rule) - everybody has to pass that - but some cars perform better than that base standard, and people should know that.” ADR 73/00, which requires data on an offset frontal impact, is based a 56km/h impact. The ANCAP offset barrier crash test occurs at 64km/h.

ANCAP no longer does full-frontal collision tests, as it believes the offset impact gives more useful information. Mr McIntosh suggested that the ADR was the low bar to hurdle.

“One star could get though the ADRs,” he said. “The question then is, what is the percentage difference (between a one-star rating and a five-star rating)? Probably a 50 per cent chance of no serious injury in a five-star car compared to a one-star car – a huge improvement.

“We should show NCAP as an excellence rating rather than the compulsory rating.

“Like anything you buy, you can tell people how good it is rather than talk about trying to mandate all these things.” ANCAP tests approximately 75 per cent of all new cars sold, and uses data from Euro NCAP for vehicles it has not tested.

ESC ‘hard to mandate’:

ANCAP chief Lauchlan McIntosh has warned that mandating the introduction of electronic stability control (ESC) could be a time-consuming process with a number of complexities.

“To mandate it requires a national approach, and it requires a regulatory impact statement. It will require a lot of work to do that,” he told GoAuto last week.

Subject to the Bracks review into the car industry, as well as international approval of a suitable technical standard for ESC, the federal government will consider undertaking a regulation impact statement for the development of a specific Australian Design Rule mandating the life-saving technology.

This would also take into account the Council of Australian Federation’s intention to progressively require safety technologies as a condition of registration in new passenger vehicles manufactured after December 31, 2010.

Mr McIntosh said that the Australian government was about to begin working with Working Group 29 at the UN to develop an international standard for ESC.

Working Group 29 has already applied itself to developing a standard for ESC on commercial vehicles but avoided specifying a performance test and instead proposed to set design and functional requirements to be demonstrated by manufacturers.

Mr McIntosh said that one problem was defining ESC given the various marketing names used to describe the technology. “What is ESC, if you want to mandate it? Is it ESP, is it ESC, whatever else someone else wants to call it?” he asked.

There are more than 20 different names given to stability control technology by vehicle manufacturers, from PSM (Porsche Stability Management) to VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist).

According to Mr McIntosh, the other major problem facing legislators is how to test ESC. “What is the performance test for ESC? That’s difficult in itself.” He said that despite the problems with making the technology mandatory, there were other avenues already being taken by ANCAP to encourage and promote the fitment of ESC.

“We can say that, like we did last year, where you can’t get a five-star (ANCAP rating) unless you have ESC. And maybe we’ll make some other changes, and we can do that fairly quickly. You don’t have to wait until everybody in the world has tested something (to modify ANCAP ratings),” he said.

Mr McIntosh added that the crucial point was not about setting a regulatory standard, but showing the difference in performance above the standard.

“Things like ESC, well, (ANCAP is saying), ‘This is the better product, and you can choose not to buy it.’”

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