12:46pm Sunday 20 October 2019

Car safety ratings could save hundreds of young drivers

Associate Professor Stuart Newstead

Associate Professor Stuart Newstead

It is also intuitive that putting people under 25 years of age into safer vehicles means they are less likely to be killed or seriously injured when involved in a crash.

Not surprisingly those under 25 opt primarily not for safety but for price – and so do their parents.. But what if parents and the young people themselves could increase their chances of surviving a crash by 900 per cent – just by making a safer choice of car? Well for more than two decades now that has been the option.

Yesterday (Wed 24 July) across Australia we had the annual release of the Used Car Safety Ratings. Created from an analysis of more than 6 million vehicles in police-reported road crashes and more than 1.4 million injured road users in New Zealand and Australia between 1987 and 2011, the analysis was undertaken by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC). This is a unique tool – its strength in many ways is not so much the research that underlies the ratings but the fact that every major road authority and motoring club in Australia and New Zealand is a stakeholder.

On the list are over 200 vehicle models with ratings for protection to drivers covering most of the popular vehicles in Australian and New Zealand fleets. Overall there are 109 vehicles in the excellent or good category, and 74 in the poor or very poor.

Put starkly, the difference in the risk of death or serious injury in a crash between the worst and the best rated car was more than NINE times for vehicles built from 1996 onwards.

The ratings measure three aspects of performance in reducing the event on death or serious injury in a crash for passenger and light commercial vehicles in Australia and New Zealand: Crashworthiness – measuring how a vehicle protects its own occupants in a crash; Aggressivity – looks at how well a vehicle protects other road users with which it collides including other vehicle occupants, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists; and Total Secondary Safety which measures the overall performance of a vehicle and the risk of death or serious injury (hospitalisation) to all road users involved a crash including vehicle drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

So we know which cars are safer but often wrongly assume they are more expensive. Safety (as opposed to style; extras; finance availability; petrol consumption) is often the last issue we look at when shopping for a vehicle that will take us and our family, friends, workmates, soccer team etc into the traffic. From the ratings it is possible to find a second-hand car that provides a high level of crash protection for about $5000.

Yet if all motorists upgraded their vehicles to the safest car in their desired class, overall safety across Australia could improve immediately by between 26 and 40 per cent.

When talking about younger drivers – yes the ones who crash more and drive around in cars with the worst safety performance– safer vehicle choices by novice drivers could reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries sustained by this group by up to 85 per cent.

In light of this evidence, the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, on behalf of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) commissioned MUARC to undertake a study to provide advice and guidance to improve young driver safety through the purchase and use of safe vehicles.

One of the key findings was that issues regarding buying a safe affordable, car need to be targeted at drivers before they get their L or P plates, preferably as part of their school curriculum in early high school What also became obvious is that there is a need to conduct further research on the decision-making and attitudes towards vehicle safety by parents and young drivers as they prepare to purchase the young driver’s first vehicle, and such research is considered to be a priority action in addressing the young driver safe vehicle issue. Ideally, this would result in a world first National Framework at the Federal Government level that is consistent, facilitated, coordinated, and well supported in addressing the issue of safe vehicles for young drivers.

That study was completed in 2009. In the four years since then over 500 young Australians have been killed in road accidents. Now not all would have been prevented if there had been safer cars involved but we know that up to 85 per cent of them could have sustained less severe injuries if they or their parents had checked the Used Car safety Ratings before they chose their vehicle.

So when you are discussing what car to get with your teenager or you are talking about getting your first or second car with your mates – think first about the safety of that vehicle. Go to the website. Make a decision that could save your life. Then choose your sound system and whether you get alloy wheels.

Associate Professor Stuart Newstead is the Associate Director, Injury Analysis and Data in the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

This article has appeared in the Canberra Times.

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