We’ve all seen the NZTA TV ads — the ones that tell consumers to buy the safest vehicle possible.
Vehicles fitted with electronic stability control and side-curtain airbags are highlighted as must-haves when consumers are considering updating their vehicle.
But why is it that some of these ‘‘safe’’ vehicles score so poorly in the ACC’s latest accident risk ratings list, which determines how much motorists pay in terms of their ACC levy when relicensing their motor vehicles?
The ‘‘safest’’ vehicle in the eyes of the ACC has a top score of 4 while the most ‘‘unsafe’’ vehicle scores a bottom of the class 1.
In theory, it’s not a bad idea. But the trouble is the ACC has decided to use, in some cases, a vehicle’s year of first registration as a guide to what crash rating score it will achieve rather than a unique model type.
There are many makes and models affected by this decision but let’s look at one example. A Nissan Qashqai registered from 2012 onward is classed as being very safe and gains a top mark of 4, but the identical vehicle registered a couple of days before in December 2011 achieves the lowest score possible, a paltry 1.
It ranks alongside older vehicles such as an Austin Allegro from the mid-70s and is therefore deemed to be high risk. Bottom line is owners of the pre-2012 Qashqai pay a bigger portion of the ACC levies come relicensing time ($158.49 v $68.46).
Both vehicles are identical in specification levels, fitted with electronic stability control and curtain airbags and, according to Nissan NZ, managed a 5-star Euro NCAP crash test rating when first released to the global market around 2007.
It doesn’t quite add up in my view.
And what happens when it comes time to renew vehicle insurance?
Are these vehicles going to be penalised further based on the ACC ratings?
Asked why this situation has come about, ACC’s senior media adviser Stephanie Melville said: “There is a distinction made between ‘newer’ and ‘older’ risk rated vehicles based on a cut-off date that is 3.5 years prior to the start of the levy year.
“The reason for this distinction is that ‘older’ risk rated vehicles have real crash data available, but for ‘newer’ risk rated vehicles we have to rely on crash testing in the laboratory to measure the likelihood and severity of injury.
“One of the reasons for a difference between NCAP ratings and the TSSI [real world crash data] is that while the NCAP system looks at how the vehicle protects drivers in simulated crash tests, the TSSI rates the relative performance of vehicles in protecting both their own drivers, other drivers and other road users.
“Risk rating draws on real crash data from 5.5 million road crashes reported to police across Australia and New Zealand, extending back as far as 1987 using a system called the Total Secondary Safety System [TSSI] which was developed by Monash University.”
When a perfectly safe vehicle is penalised for being registered in the wrong year, the current policy seems to lack a degree of common sense. And it would appear I’m not alone in my thinking.
Motor Vehicle Industry CEO David Crawford has some major concerns as well. “We are not happy with some aspects of how the modelling currently is carried out but are working with ACC to improve their system.
“The issue with the example you provided, of which there are unfortunately many other examples, is because of an arbitrary cut-off between year bands that do not relate to model generations.
“We have asked, and ACC have agreed, to look at amending the system for the 2016-17 levy year to incorporate model generations so that they are not separated by arbitrary year breaks.
“The other issues concerning us relate to the non-use of NCAP ratings for vehicles older than three and a half years, as the minister has a strong preference for using so-called ‘real life’ data represented in the used car safety ratings (TSSI data set).
“I say so-called because the data set while extensive is not extensive enough. We are calling for the use of NCAP ratings for older vehicles where there is no relevant TSSI data to inform the risk rating.
“Fair Go’s recent programme highlighted an issue both the MIA and AA had previously, on several occasions, alerted ACC to,” says Crawford.
It’s a shame they didn’t listen.
■For those wishing to discuss their particular vehicle’s ACC levy, the corporation’s helpline is 0800 222 776.