Buyer's Guide: 43 score highest safety rating
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Between January and December 2016, 45 vehicles available in Australia and New Zealand were tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) and 43 received the maximum five-star safety rating. Two models scored a four-star rating. No new cars achieved a one-, two- or three-star safety rating.
Why should that matter if you're looking for a new car?
To put it simply, there's twice the chance of death or serious injury if you're involved in a crash with a three-star safety rating, than there is if the vehicle has five stars. It's a scary statistic but, when people ask for advice about which car they should buy, we recommend they opt for the safest car they can afford.
ANCAP is an independent vehicle safety advocacy organisation that provides consumers with safety information about new passenger, SUV and light commercial vehicles. Each vehicle is awarded a rating, based upon its performance in a series of internationally recognised crash tests and technology assessments that indicate its safety in the event of a crash as well as its ability to avoid a collision.
What do ANCAP crash tests involve?
For a vehicle to achieve any rating, it must achieve minimum scores in each of the physical crash tests and meet minimum requirements for the inclusion of key safety features and safety assist technologies. For example, models introduced since 2008 can attain a five-star rating only if they are fitted with Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
To replicate an accident with an oncoming car, a frontal offset crash test is conducted at a speed of 64km/h. Most drivers will instinctively try to avoid accidents, so it's less likely that two cars will meet head-on. A frontal offset crash test reflects this, as 40 per cent of the car, on the driver's side, makes contact with a crushable aluminium barrier which simulates the front of an oncoming car.
High ratings don't solely indicate safety for occupants in a vehicle. ANCAP's pedestrian protection test simulates either a child or adult being struck by a vehicle travelling at 40km/h. In Australia and New Zealand, 15 per cent of fatal crashes involve pedestrians, and systems such as pop-up bonnets and external airbags show there are design features that can lessen the chance of serious injury to those outside the vehicle.
In all instances, crash test dummies are scientifically measured to assess the level of injuries a person is likely to suffer as a result of the accident.
In setting the standards for safety, ANCAP has set the standard for how we measure a vehicle's comparable safety. The organisation has been publishing its test results since 1992 and is supported by 23 automotive clubs, transport agencies and insurers across New Zealand and Australia, including the New Zealand Automobile Association and the New Zealand Transport Agency.
The impressive number of five-star cars in 2016 is by no means a sign that the tests are too easy.
Each year, ANCAP reviews the criteria for the star ratings, actively encouraging car makers continually to improve the level of safety built into their cars for the benefit of all road users. Likewise, manufacturers have gained such a wealth of knowledge from ANCAP's independent assessments that they've striven to stay ahead of the game. They've invested in developing new technologies and active safety systems that are designed not only to protect passengers and pedestrians in a crash but also prevent the collision from happening in the first place.
Because of the high number of new vehicles that are now being sold with a five-star safety rating, manufacturers are being pushed to meet or exceed this level of safety to remain competitive. This means that excellent safety systems are becoming more prevalent as standard, making them more affordable to all motorists. Of course, if you have a vehicle with great safety features, you'll also benefit from lower registration costs due to reduced ACC levy charges.
Remember that a car that received a five-star safety rating in 2013 may not necessarily qualify at the same level in 2017, so do look for the datestamp that appears with the rating. See ancap.co.nz for detailed reports with a scoring breakdown.