AA Buyer's Guide: How is vehicle safety measured in NZ?
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At the AA we always encourage buyers to find the safest vehicle that their budget allows.
According to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency research, a driver in a one-star rated vehicle is 90 per cent more likely to die or sustain a serious injury in a crash than if they were driving a five-star rated vehicle. It is also reported that 41 per cent of New Zealand’s light passenger vehicles have a one or two-star Used Car Safety Rating, which equates to 1.65 million vehicles out of a fleet of around four million.
So, it’s important to know the safety of the vehicle which you or your loved ones are driving, and even more importantly, for that to influence your decision when choosing a vehicle.
There are now three methods used in NZ to rate vehicle safety; the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), Rightcar Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) and the recently added Vehicle Safety Risk Rating (VSRR).
Founded in 1993, ANCAP is the independent vehicle safety authority for Australasia, and conducts tests on new passenger, sports utility (SUV) and light commercial vehicles (LCV) entering NZ and Australia. It’s not mandatory for manufacturers to submit a vehicle for ANCAP crash testing, so not all new vehicles receive a rating.
Tested vehicles receive a star rating between one and five (with five being the highest) based on results from a selection of crash tests carried out in a strictly controlled laboratory environment by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.
Every tested vehicle is scrutinised under the same set of crash situations (head-on frontal, side pole impact, pedestrian protection, etc). Using male, female and child-sized crash test dummies, the outcome of each test is measured and given a score which is all added to achieve the final star rating.
The target in order to achieve five stars changes to reflect safety technology advances. So a car awarded five stars in 2011 will no longer meet the same criteria in 2021, for example.
One of the benefits of ANCAP scores is that you’re comparing apples with apples - the rating was given for the tested vehicle of that year, which can be used to compare others of the same age and style. The ANCAP safety ratings of a vehicle are used by Rightcar for six years from the first date of model manufacture; after that real world crash data is used.
For vehicles without a current ANCAP rating, UCSR is another indicator of vehicle safety when purchasing a used car. These safety ratings are created by using records from over eight million vehicles involved in police-reported driver injury crashes across Australia and NZ.
While UCSR assess the risk of death or serious injury resulting in hospitalisation of a driver involved in a crash, it doesn’t assess the risk of being involved in a crash in the first place.
“Safer Pick” vehicles listed in the ratings have been identified as having a reduced risk of injury to both the driver and other road users in a crash based on the crash avoidance features fitted. These cars will have a five-star rating, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and reversing assist technology (reversing sensors, a reversing camera or both).
Australia has strict rules on imported vehicles, so a lot of the Japanese imported vehicles we see in NZ may not be on the road in Australia. In a number of cases, there will not be enough information to be able to accurately identify the type of vehicle to be able to assign a credible safety rating. In those cases, no safety rating will be displayed. The same goes for new cars that don’t receive an ANCAP crash test rating.
The VSRR assesses vehicles that don't have an ANCAP or UCSR safety rating. It's used for vehicles where there are too few of these vehicles currently being driven to provide enough crash and injury data, so the rating is based on the average crash rating of similar vehicles (other small SUVs, for example) from the same year of manufacture.
The VSRR assesses how well a vehicle is likely to perform in a crash, in terms of how well it protects occupants of the vehicle and those the vehicle crashes into - pedestrians, cyclists and occupants of other vehicles.
How do I know what rating to look for?
Our car fleet is made up of a mixture of used import and NZ-new vehicles, which proves to be a challenge as it’s not very often that two imported vehicles share the same safety specifications, even if they appear identical on the outside.
Many NZ-new vehicles can easily be differentiated from a Japanese domestic import thanks to a different model name. For example, a Honda Jazz would be NZ-new and a Honda Fit would be a used import. Some vehicles, however, share a model name no matter which country they were first registered in, like the Suzuki Swift.
As far as specifications go, some vehicles imported from Japan are very closely related to their NZ new variants, but some aren’t. For example, a Japanese domestic specification vehicle might only have two airbags, whereas a NZ-new model might have six airbags and stability control to ensure a superior level of safety.
Where to go
Make sure before you buy your next vehicle you check its safety features and its ratings at rightcar.govt.nz so you can make an informed safe vehicle purchase decision.