Crash Test Results - Australian Vehicles

Australia's New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crashtests Australian-specification vehicles to the same standards as the European NCAP. However, we have a slight problem with the EuroNCAP (and thus ANCAP) testing methods: EuroNCAP allows carmakers to trade off less desirable frontal crashtest results against good side crashtest results (it's a way of encouraging manufacturers to build cars for good all-round protection rather than just good frontal protection). Thus, cars that might kill you in a head-on collision may end up with a deceptively good rating. Take the example of the previous generation Hyundai Sante Fe, which got a four out of a possible five stars in its EuroNCAP crashtest. When looking at the frontal test data closely, however, we note a warning that the Sante Fe got a mere 56 out of a possible 100, and testers noted that: "the integrity of the passenger compartment was questionable and results from the frontal test were disappointing, showing problems for the driver's chest and upper legs. In contrast, the 4x4's performance in the side impact was very good despite its lack of side airbags." Thus the Sante Fe got a better rating than it would have for a frontal test alone. As with any crashtest, you should also be aware that any test result means only that a vehicle gives good or bad front and side crash protection in a collision with a solid object such as a lamppost, or a vehicle of similar weight. In actual road smashes the driver of a smaller (lighter) car is far more likely to die than the driver of the larger (heavier) vehicle it collides with.

Monash University studies thousands of actual road crashes and comes up with these lists that summarise the best and worst vehicles in an accident. There are two slight problems with the Monash figures. While we accept that the Monash study is scrupulously scientific, the sample of vehicles is rather small by international standards, which makes it difficult to get clear readings on less common makes and models. It’s a basic premise of statistics that the more examples you can check the greater the accuracy. For example, if you believed the Monash study, the 88-94 Ford Fairlane N & LTD D would be among the safest cars on the Aussie roads. Yet the next Fairlane model, which arguably had better safety features, was rated as 'marginal' in its ANCAP crashtest. Older cars are rarely safer than the model that replaces them: how come the discrepancy? Part of the discrepancy lies in the fact that crashtests only apply to vehicles within their weight group, so the Fairlane can fail a crashtest but still mash smaller vehicles. Therefore it may not be a good vehicle to drive into a lamppost, but compared to a small Korean car it’s a tank and will do similar damage in a head-on collision. So the Fairlane gives good results not because its a safe car but because it’s a big car, and is therefore more aggressive than many of the vehicles it collides with. Further, as mentioned above, in the Monash study anyone sent to hospital with suspected significant injury gets included. They could be terminally injured, or on the other hand they could have suspected head injuries but be back at work the next day. The inclusion of injuries tends to blur the picture when it comes to less common makes and models. That’s probably why Monash figures for less common vehicles sometimes conflict with overseas crash studies. The last explanation is also simple: Unlike the Monash study, the European Folksam study covers many millions of vehicles and many of these vehicles are from Europe. Therefore, vehicles such as Saabs and Volvos – which are relatively rare in Australia – are well represented in the Folksam study and there are enough of them to clearly separate them from less-safe vehicles. Therefore, when the Folksam data is issued, makes like Saab & Volvo (which do very well in crashtests) also tend to get top rating in the real-life crash results. However, there simply aren’t enough Saabs & Volvos in Australia to produce a reliable statistical result, so they tend to either get bumped off the list or lumped in with the other luxury cars in the ‘significantly better than average’ box. We believe, however, that if enough Saabs and Volvos were on the Australian roads then the Monash results would be very similar to the European Folksam results, with the Saabs and Volvos at the top and the Fairlane in its natural place somewhere around the middle of the chart. In most ways the Monash data is very useful, however, especially when evaluating smaller cars.