If you’re in the market for a new car, ‘five-star safety rating’ is probably a term you’ve encountered umpteen times. It’s easy to assume all new cars will be relatively safe cars but, as Ford’s hugely popular Mustang recently proved, when it comes to helping you avoid a crash or protecting you and your family in the event of an accident, not all new cars are created equal.
According to the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), someone in Australia (and New Zealand) is either killed or seriously injured in a motor vehicle crash every 15 minutes and at an estimated cost to the community of a staggering $70 million a day.
With stark figures like that, it’s easy to see why we should be putting as much importance on a potential new car’s safety rating as we do on comparatively frivolous must-haves like the brand, options list and colour.
ANCAP has been providing Australasian consumers independent safety assessments on new cars since 1993. Right now, it has comprehensive (and downloadable) reports on 233 current-model vehicles. The program takes a new vehicle and simulates a crash in five common scenarios (see below) before assessing the damage to both the vehicle and the dummy occupants inside. Electronic safety aids also contribute to the overall score and each vehicle needs to meet or surpass a pre-determined minimum score across each category in order to earn the coveted five-star rating.
The stakes are about to get higher for manufacturers, too, as the organisation announced changes to the Australian testing process in a bid to bring it more in line with the European NCAP scheme. While the two programs are largely similar, the changes will see the addition of a full-frontal crash assessment, more consideration will be given to a vehicle’s ability to protect kids and there will be an increase in the emphasis placed on crash-avoidance technology.
If 2017 is the year of the new car for you, then this is the testing process the vehicle has been subject to in order to assess just how safe it is for you and your family.
Frontal Offset Test
To mimic the scenario of a head-on style crash, 40 percent of the front of the car is forced into an aluminium barrier at a speed of 64km/h. Both the speed and the behaviour of the crushable-type barrier simulate a head-on collision of two vehicles travelling at the same speed. During the simulation, two adult-sized dummies are properly restrained in the two front seats, while two child-sized dummies (a three-year old and an 18-month old) are appropriately restrained in the rear of the vehicle. Sensors fitted to the dummies’ legs, knees, arms, head and neck all detect and record potential injuries which contribute to the car’s overall score.
Side Impact Test
As the name suggests, this test is designed to simulate two vehicles colliding at 90 degrees. Often referred to as being ‘t-boned,’ ANCAP’s testers ram a 950kg trolley into the side of the vehicle being tested, with the impact point using the same crushable-type aluminium to mimic the crumple zone of the front of another car. The trolley is travelling at a speed of 50km/h at the point of impact and the same four dummies are appropriately restrained within the vehicle.
Fifteen percent of fatal crashes in Australia and New Zealand are the result of a vehicle hitting a pedestrian. The outer design of the car can greatly influence the severity of injuries in such a scenario and so is put through a series of pedestrian tests as part of the ANCAP assessment. The tests simulate both a child-sized and adult-sized head hitting the vehicle’s bonnet and the subsequent injuries estimated, while the same is done with the simulation of both a child-sized and an adult-sized leg being hit by the leading edge of the vehicle in question. In all scenarios, the vehicle is travelling at a speed of 40km/h.
This test sees the vehicle sliding into a rigid vertical pole at a speed of 29km/h. The pole is narrow to mimic a tree or a telegraph pole and impacts the vehicle on the driver’s side and penetrates the side of the car aligned with the driver’s head. Three accelerometers inside the dummy’s head measure forces experienced by the would-be driver and vehicles fitted with curtain airbags typically score far better in the pole test than vehicles without.
Designed to measure the forces experienced by the occupants’ head and neck in the event of being rear-ended, the vehicle’s driver’s seat is removed and mounted to a trolley. With a properly restrained adult-sized dummy placed in the seat, the trolley is propelled at a force which mimics a stationary car being hit from behind by another vehicle which is travelling at 32km/h. As well as accelerometers mounted inside the dummy’s head, other sensors in the neck measure the bending, shearing and tension forces felt during the impact.
Now read about how to read WhichCar safety ratings.