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Backtrack on 4WD safety

Troubled waters: Experts predict special SUV licences are not far away.

Debate rages as study finds 4WDs no worse than cars for reversing

Holden logo3 Jun 2005

A GROUND-BREAKING study into reversing vehicles has found that four-wheel drive wagons have no more serious reversing blind-spots than some passenger cars.

The landmark NRMA study into the reversing characteristics of 222 vehicles concluded that "contrary to popular belief, 4WD vehicles are not the worst when it comes to reversing visibility".

Just one vehicle out of the 222 tested, the Lexus GS430 sedan, recorded a maximum five-star rating in the 2005 NRMA Insurance Reverse Visibility Index, held for the second time after the inaugural study in 2002.

Another Lexus with a reversing camera, the RX330 4WD, also managed a top-five spot, along with the Mazda MX-5, BMW Z4 and Mitsubishi Pajero.

Australia's biggest-selling 4WD, the Ford Territory, received a two-star rating when fitted with rear parking sensors, which was a middle-of-the-pack rating among the 47 4WDs tested.

Like the Territory and Lexus twins, the Pajero also had an original-equipment reversing camera.

As well as having the camera, the GS430 won acclaim because it featured, as standard, both front and rear parking sensors.

Vehicles that returned a zero rating were the Holden Commodore VX sedan and the Crewman utility, the Toyota Prado, Honda Odyssey, Mercedes-Benz CLK500 convertible and Land Rover Discovery.

As a result of its findings, the NRMA has urged vehicle manufacturers to modify some design features to improve reversing visibility, including the widespread adoption of reversing cameras.

The NRMA's safety manager, Pam Leicester, also encouraged manufacturers to look at high rear window lines, rear headrests and the design of high-mounted spare tyres.

"The results indicated that cars with reversing cameras could vastly improve visibility," Ms Leicester said. "A camera installed into the Mitsubishi Pajero for example, improved its visibility significantly, pushing its score from half a star to four-and-a-half.

"As reversing camera technology is becoming more affordable, they can be a viable solution for mainstream cars. Many new vehicles already have screens to display GPS, heating, ventilation and sound system controls so the installation of a reversing camera is a logical progression." The release of the NRMA report coincides with heated debate over the ballooning numbers of large 4WDs in urban areas and a recent NSW coroner's inquest into the death in Sydney of a five-year-old girl, who was run over by a 4WD in the grounds of Pittwater House School three years ago.

The NSW deputy state coroner, Jacqueline Milledge, has urged the banning of 4WDs from stopping within 200 metres of primary and infant schools and urged the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority to introduce a special licence for 4WDs weighing more than two tonnes, a moved labelled as "discriminatory" by Four-Wheel-Drive NSW Inc lobby group chief, Robert Kelly.

"I've been attacked for saying that but it's true," Mr Kelly told GoAuto this week.

Mr Kelly believes there are certain sections of the NSW Government and some lobbyists who want to change the licensing arrangements regarding 4WDs to "snare" owners.

"It's a real political football in NSW," he said.

NSW MLC, Dr Jon Jenkins, who is a member of the Outdoor Recreation Party, echoed Mr Kelly's views.

Dr Jenkins said as a result of the coroner's recommendations the NSW Government will be required to investigate special licences for 4WDs.

He believes such licences will become inevitable, based on a vehicle's weight.

"It's only a matter of time," he said.

Dr Jenkins said these would most likely be introduced after the next NSW election due in 2007, because it was too hot an issue for the Carr Labor government to broach at present.

However, an upside of Ms Milledge's comments last week has been an increase in the number of 4WD owners, often parents, seeking better training in their vehicles, according to Mr Kelly.

"Look, the hazards aren't just because of one particular type of vehicle - the hazard is all vehicles," Mr Kelly said.

Four-Wheel Drive NSW Inc represents 92 clubs in NSW and the ACT and more than 10,000 4WD owners.

Mr Kelly welcomed the NRMA's reversing index because it showed vision was not only a problem with some 4WDs "but also some passenger cars".

The index will be available as a guide for consumers. The results are rated on a scale of zero to five stars, with a five-star rating indicating better reversing visibility than all other vehicles.

 center image The NRMA's Ms Leicester said many 4WDs performed better in the study than some popular sedans, among them the Kia Sportage, Holden Cruze, Subaru Forester, Volvo V70 XC, Mazda Tribute, Mitsubishi Challenger and, believe it or not, the Toyota LandCruiser 100 Series.

"While no car type is inherently better, it is clear that new technology, including cameras, can dramatically improve visibility," Ms Leicester said.

Local road safety campaigners will be buoyed by news in the United States last week that a bill is before the US Government that, if passed, would make it compulsory for car-makers to install reversing safety technology to help prevent children from being accidently run over.

Holden: Reversing Index findings "don't make sense"

HOLDEN has defended the poor showing of its VZ Commodore Acclaim sedan, which ranked 12th out of the 13 large cars tested in the 2005 NRMA Insurance Reversing Visibility Index study, saying the findings "don’t make sense".

Holden told GoAuto this week the results of the NRMA’s reversing visibility investigation – in which the highest ranked version of Australia’s most popular model, the superseded VY Commodore sedan, finished ninth – were inconsistent.

"Holden doesn’t agree with the NRMA research findings because they don’t make sense and are full of discrepancies," said spokesman Jason Laird.

"For instance, how can one sedan without rear parking sensors rate higher than the same body style which has rear parking sensors as standard?" Behind the VY Commodore sedan in 11th position was the VX Commodore wagon and the current VZ Acclaim sedan, which features rear parking sensors as standard, in 12th.

Of the large cars tested, the VX Commodore sedan failed to score a single star and placed 13th and last in a field led by Ford’s BA Fairmont Ghia sedan (with rear parking sensors).

Falcons filled the top three, with the BA sedan second and an AU wagon third, while Toyota’s current Avalon and Mitsubishi’s current Magna sedan filled out the top five.

Also placed ahead of the top-ranked Commodore was an AUII Falcon sedan in sixth, ahead of Nissan’s Maxima and the previous model TJ Magna sedan.

"How can vehicles with rear parking sensors rate far lower than those without?" Mr Laird asked.

"How can the NRMA then argue that one particular body style is ‘more safe’ than another when it is additional technology, rather than the body style itself, which they are rating for the extra safety? "Holden designs its vehicles in a holistic manner to take all passenger and pedestrian safety into account, including visibility issues.

"We have offered Rear Park Assist on a range of vehicles since VY was introduced in 2002," he said.

A senior mechanical engineer with the NRMA, Adam MacBeth, said the organisation stood by its testing protocols.

He said older models had been included along with newer vehicles, which explained some differences in ratings for the same brands.

Mr MacBeth said there were standardised protocols for testing, which included an adult test dummy, a test cylinder representing the shoulder-height of a two-year-old child and a grid extending 1.8m x 15m at the rear of the vehicle.

A laser point device, simulating line of sight, was directed through the rear windows of the test vehicles.

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