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The state of Australian car safety

For many Australians, car safety is one of the most important factors to research when buying a new car. With driverless vehicles taking to our local roads and questions of safety arising as a result, now is perhaps also a perfect time to consider what advanced systems are making the cars we pilot ourselves safer for the community.

This is especially crucial considering the recent news headlines made by popular Korean marque Hyundai.

New Hyundai Tucson in the headlines

New cars in Australia are subjected to stringent safety testing to ensure that they meet our local standards, even if the same vehicle was already tested overseas. The organisation that oversees this process is called the Australian New Car Assessment Program, or ANCAP for short (see below for more details).

Its results are summarised in a five-star rating, with five being the best. Though you’ll see a wide variety of ratings if you look at the different car models dating back some years, the vast majority of newly manufactured vehicles strive for the full five, as this ensures maximum safety. ANCAP itself states about 81 per cent of its listings have achieved this.

Unfortunately, the new Hyundai Tucson SUV was caught in the headlights at the start of November due to it failing to meet full marks, instead falling on four stars.

“The result is disappointing and unexpected for a new vehicle in this competitive class,” said chief executive of ANCAP James Goodwin.

“Testing revealed the structural integrity of the driver footwell was compromised in the frontal offset test and there was also excessive movement of the brake pedal meaning the vehicle could not achieve five stars.”

Hyundai is now working with ANCAP to change its designs in order to improve the result.

What is ANCAP and why is it important?

As we mentioned, ANCAP is the leading crash test organisation in Australia. Since 1993, it has put over 500 passenger and light commercial vehicles through their paces, publishing the results for us – the consumers – to read up on.

New vehicles are intentionally crashed in numerous different ways in order to fully determine how they will perform in a real-life accident. Some of these tests include:

•    Frontal offset: Crashing the front corner of the vehicle into a barrier
•    Side impact: Simulating a small car impacting the driver’s door
•    Side pole: A pole side impact to test curtain airbags
•    Pedestrian protection: To see how well a pedestrian will fare upon being hit by the vehicle

This is an important organisation, but it may not be so for much longer. Drive reported that, since Toyota, Ford and other marques will no longer be manufacturing vehicles locally, government funding for ANCAP will also cease.

“With the globalisation of the automotive industry and the harmonisation of Australian Design Rules with UN regulations, the FCAI [Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries] questions the continuing relevance of a separate ANCAP in Australia,” a spokesperson for the FCAI said.

However, some disagree with this decision. Associate Professor Stuart Newstead, of Monash University’s Accident Research Commission, is one such individual.

“In the days before ANCAP, safety wasn’t really on the agenda. It was about the loudness of stereos and the shininess of alloy wheels,” he said.

“What it has done is help put vehicle safety and safety choices at the top of the agenda.”

So will it stay to keep testing or disappear overseas alongside Toyota, Ford and Holden? We’ll see come 2017 when the funding is due to stop.

So how safe is your car, or the car you intend to purchase?

Modern safety features have far advanced the overall performance of cars both big and small, but that doesn’t mean older models are a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, there are plenty of cars out there that possess adequate safety for the everyday user.

If you want to check a car’s rating, log on to ANCAP’s website and use its search features to find your vehicle. If it’s listed, you’ll see all the details about how it fared in the tests, and which particular model variant was used. For example, the two-wheel, 2.0-litre GDi petrol Hyundai Tucson is the one that scored four out of five stars, though two other engine types are available.

Almost all cars from the 1980s, ’90s and today feature the essential safety features, so you likely won’t need to worry about them. These include air bags and anti-lock brake systems (ABS) – the latter of which tries to monitor the brakes and modify the pressure on them to keep the wheels spinning, not skidding, in the event of an emergency.

In addition, it would be wise to own a car with electronic stability control (ESC), lane departure warnings and speed alerts. According to eImpact, the increasing use of ESC systems alone are expected to prevent upward of 3,000 fatalities and 50,000 injuries in Europe each year.

The future of safety in Australia

We already have a lot of incredibly sophisticated safety systems in our new cars, but there’s still lots of room for improvement. In New South Wales alone, there were over 300 fatalities in the 12 months leading to November, 193 of which were drivers of cars or their passengers.

So what’s coming up next?

This year, Volvo announced that it is developing special detection systems to help prevent kangaroo strikes – one of the country’s most costly causes of automotive accidents. This tech would rely on radar and cameras to apply the brakes if a collision is likely.

“Kangaroos are very unpredictable animals and difficult to avoid,” said the marque’s senior safety engineer, Martin Magnusson, “but we are confident we can refine our technology to detect them and avoid collisions on the highway.”

Also incoming is a system from Mitsubishi that can monitor a driver on long, straight roads, and detect absent-mindedness. According to a press release from the company, the technology will monitor driving patterns as well as the driver’s own heart rate and facial orientation (among many other details) in order to alert him or her about “potentially dangerous indications”.

Don’t forget, when you are driving on NSW roads, you also need compulsory third-party insurance, also known as a green slip.  Use our green slip calculator to find the cheapest price for your vehicle.

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