How is vehicle safety measured? An explainer on where ratings come from
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Vehicle safety is the most important factor to consider when buying a car, and the AA always encourages buyers to find the safest vehicle their budget allows.
Last month, it was reported that the Government was considering a ban on vehicle imports with a one- or two-star safety rating.
According to NZTA research, a driver in a one-star rated vehicle is 90 per cent more likely to die or get a serious injury in a crash than if they were in a five-star vehicle.
Two methods are used in New Zealand to rate the safety of a vehicle; the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) and Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR).
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 New Zealand and Australia. It’s not mandatory to submit a vehicle for ANCAP crash testing, so not all new vehicles receive a rating.
Most NZ-new vehicles are given a star rating between one and five (five being the highest) based on results from crash tests ANCAP carries out in a strictly controlled laboratory environment.
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 scored. These are collated to achieve the final star rating.
The target needed for five stars changes with safety technology advances. A car awarded five stars in 2009 is probably less safe than a five-star car in 2019.
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.
For vehicles without ANCAP ratings, UCSR is a good indicator of vehicle safety when purchasing a used car. These safety ratings are created by using records from more than 8 million vehicles involved in police-reported crashes across Australasia.
Although UCSR assesses the risk of death or serious injury resulting in a driver who was involved in a crash being admitted to hospital, 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 the driver and other road users in a crash based on the crash avoidance features fitted; this includes electronic stability control (ESC).
Australia has strict rules on imported vehicles, many Japanese imported vehicles we see in NZ may not be on the road in Australia. This means that often there simply isn’t enough crash data available for a vehicle to receive a UCSR rating.
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 often that two imported vehicles share the same safety specifications, even if they appear identical.
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, such as the Suzuki Swift.
Where to go Before you buy your next vehicle, check its safety features and ratings at rightcar.govt.nz so you can make an informed, safe decision.