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How safe is your used car?

How safe is your used car?

Data from the world’s largest survey of real-life crashes has been analysed to rate the safety performance of some of New Zealand’s most popular used cars.

The 2005 Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) study has analysed the crash performance of used cars in over 1.1 million crashes on New Zealand and Australian roads. Safety ratings have been calculated for 288 common makes and models. The ratings are being released in New Zealand today by Land Transport NZ and the New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA).

The study shows significant differences in crash performance between vehicles of a similar size and value. Full results are available on the Land Transport NZ website, http://www.landtransport.govt.nz.

Driver protection The 2005 study evaluated which vehicle makes and models were likely to provide ‘better than average’ protection to their drivers in a crash, and which were likely to provide lower levels of protection.
Vehicle types included in the study range from small and family cars to four wheel drives and light commercial vehicles. Of the 288 models included in the study, 66 were rated ‘worse than average’, with 40 of these ‘much worse than average’, while 83 vehicle models were rated ‘better than average’, with 32 of these ‘much better than average’.

No light cars had a driver protection rating of ‘better than average’ and only one large car had a ‘worse than average’ rating. Many of the better performing vehicles were later models, showing the benefits of modern safety technology such as airbags, side-intrusion beams, seatbelt pre-tensioners and crumple zones.

Driving the worst performing vehicle means that, on average, you stand a 30 per cent greater chance of serious injury or death in a serious crash than if you are in the best performing vehicle.


Harm to other road users Of the 288 vehicles included in the survey, 261 were also rated on the amount of harm they are likely to cause to other road users in the event of a crash. The rating has been expanded this year to include drivers of other vehicles and unprotected road users (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists). In the past these ratings only included the drivers of other vehicles.

Of the 261 models rated, 64 vehicle models were found likely to cause ‘less harm than average’ to other road users, with 21 of these likely to cause ‘significantly less harm than average’. Fifty-one vehicle models were likely to cause ‘more harm than average’ to other road users, and 24 of these were likely to cause ‘significantly more harm than average’.

No medium, small or light cars were rated as causing ‘more harm than average’ to other road users. All large 4WD vehicles in the study were found likely to cause ‘significantly more harm than average’ to other road users. Commercial vehicles also performed poorly.

It should be noted that good driver protection performance does not have to mean poor performance in terms of harm to other road users, and vice versa. Although larger vehicles tend to have better ratings than smaller vehicles for driver protection, many smaller vehicles still have good driver protection ratings. Consumers should decide what type of vehicle they wish to drive and then consider choosing one of the best-rated vehicles in that category.

The Used Car Safety Ratings study was first undertaken in Australia by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in 1990, and has since grown to be the largest of its type in the world. New Zealand authorities commissioned MUARC to combine crash data from the two countries in 2000, and ratings incorporating New Zealand crash data were produced for the first time last year. Data used for the 2005 results was collected between 1987 and 2003, on vehicles manufactured from 1982 to 2003. Minister for Transport Safety Harry Duynhoven said he encouraged drivers to use the guide to help them buy the safest vehicle possible.

“It was with pleasure that I launched this valuable guide in New Zealand last year, and I’m pleased to see the first update released today. The guide is an informative, easy to use booklet that contains easily understood information on what should be the most important variable when buying a used vehicle – safety.”

NZAA Technical Advice Manager Jack Biddle agreed that safety should be high on the priority list for used vehicle buyers.

“The updated Used Car Safety Ratings provide real life crash data which should be used as a guide on a vehicle’s ability to protect its occupants in a crash. Overall, the older the car the higher the risk of injury. We encourage people to look at their needs and consider all the relevant information, including these ratings, before making a vehicle purchase.”

Copies of the 2005 Used Car Safety Ratings booklet are available at no charge from AA Centres across the country. Booklets can also be ordered from any Land Transport NZ office, or by ringing 0800 699 000. The 2005 ratings are also available on the Land Transport NZ website, http://www.landtransport.govt.nz.

Questions and answers for 2005 update to the Used Car Safety Ratings brochure

1. What does the Used Car Safety Ratings brochure show? This brochure shows safety ratings for 288 common models of passenger vehicles in the Australian and New Zealand vehicle fleets. It uses statistical analysis of actual crash data by Australian researchers at the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) to rate vehicle models according to two criteria:

How much the vehicle is likely to protect the driver in a crash.

2. How badly the vehicle is likely to harm another road user in a crash.

However, any vehicle safety rating system can only provide an indication of how much protection a vehicle is likely to offer a driver in the event of a crash, or how much harm it is likely to cause to other road users. Whether or not death or serious injury results also depends on how safely the vehicle is driven and the particular circumstances of the crash.

2. Why have the Used Car Safety Ratings been produced?

If all vehicles of a particular type were designed and made to be equivalent to the safest model of that type, the number of fatal and disabling crash injuries could be significantly reduced.

These ratings are produced to help drivers identify safe models when buying a used vehicle.

The publication of similar safety ratings for new cars through the Australian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) has resulted in improvements to the safety features of many new vehicle models. Manufacturers even use good ANCAP ratings in their advertisements.

The Used Car Safety Ratings are expected to have a similar influence on used car importers and dealers, encouraging them to import and stock the best-rated models in response to consumer demand.

People are encouraged to use this guide to help them choose the safest possible car for the money they have available.

3. What types of vehicles are included in these ratings?

These ratings are for light passenger vehicles. The rated vehicles have been classified into 12 categories – seven categories of regular passenger car, three categories of 4WDs and twe categories of light commercial vehicle.

4. Are some vehicle categories safer than others? Although larger vehicles included in this brochure tend to have better ratings than the smaller vehicles for driver protection, many smaller vehicles still have good driver protection ratings. Motorists should decide what type of vehicle they wish to drive and then consider choosing one of the best-rated vehicles in that category.

5. How were the driver protection ratings calculated?

The ratings were calculated from analysis of police reports on actual crashes in Victoria and New South Wales from 1987 to 2003 and in Queensland, Western Australia and New Zealand from 1991 to 2003. The ratings were calculated by a combination of the risk of a driver being injured in a crash and, if injury resulted, the severity of those injuries.

Statistically reliable ratings for driver protection were calculated for 288 models of Australian and New Zealand passenger vehicles manufactured between 1982-2003. For these ratings, injury risk was based on outcomes for 1,144,092 drivers involved in crashes where a vehicle was towed away, and likely injury severity was based on injuries suffered by 199,753 of those drivers.

Statistically reliable ratings for harm to other road users were calculated for 261 models of Australian and New Zealand passenger vehicles manufactured between 1982-2003. These ratings were based on harm to the driver of another car in a two-car collision and also harm to vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. For more detailed information, view the full report that these ratings are based on at http://www.general.monash.edu.au/muarc/rptsum/muarc.pdf

6. How accurate are the ratings in predicting how safe a vehicle will be in a crash?

As these ratings are statistically calculated from the outcomes of actual crashes, the more often a particular vehicle model is involved in a crash, the more accurate will be the rating for that vehicle. That means that, in general, the ratings for more common and/or older vehicles may be more accurate than ratings for newer and/or less common models.

However, any vehicle safety rating system can only provide an indication of how much protection a vehicle is likely to offer a driver in the event of a crash, or how much harm it is likely to cause the driver of another vehicle. Whether or not death or serious injury results also depends on how safely the vehicle is driven and the particular circumstances of the crash.

To find out more about the reliability of these ratings, view the full report http://www.general.monash.edu.au/muarc/rptsum/muarcxxx.pdf

7. How do the Australian and New Zealand vehicle fleets rate for safety compared to fleets from other countries?

These ratings compare vehicles with the rest of the vehicle fleet, not against an objective standard. That means that there will always be vehicles that rate better or worse than average. Therefore, it is not possible to objectively assess, from these ratings, the overall safety standard of the New Zealand or Australian vehicle fleets. They have not been compared with vehicle fleets from other countries for the same reason. 8. But aren't some vehicles likely to rate poorly because of the types of people that drive them or where they are driven?

This was taken into account as much as possible when the data was analysed. The ratings measure how well the vehicle protected its driver when a crash occurred. They factor out the effect, as much as possible, of who was driving the vehicle – and where.

9. What should people do if the vehicle they currently drive is rated poorly? Crashes in even the best-rated vehicles can still result in serious injury or death to the driver. The best protection against injury is to drive safely and encourage other road users to drive safely. When people are ready to buy another vehicle, they may want to take these ratings into account and consider choosing one of the best-rated models.

10. What should people do if they can't afford one of the best-rated vehicles? Some older and less-expensive models do rate well – occasionally better than some newer, expensive models. People should work out what they can afford to spend on a used car and consider choosing one of the best-rated vehicles that their budget allows.

11. Why aren't the vehicles that are rated poorly for driver protection taken off the road?

These ratings rate vehicles against each other, not against an objective standard. This means that there will always be vehicles that are rated average, above average and below average. So, although some vehicle models offer better protection to drivers in a crash than others, this does not mean that the less safe models are dangerous to the extent they should be taken off the roads.

12. Some vehicles that rate well in this brochure are not able to be imported into New Zealand. Why?

Some of the vehicles in this brochure may not meet certain New Zealand vehicle safety standards, such as the frontal impact standard introduced in 2002. These must be met before a vehicle can be registered for the road in New Zealand. These vehicles can’t be registered for the road if imported today but if they are already on the register can continue to be licensed and operated.

Therefore, while these ratings provide a useful guide to consumers, they should not be relied on as a means of determining if a newly imported vehicle will be able to be registered for the road.

13. How do these ratings compare to new car safety ratings?

New car safety ratings (eg ANCAP) are determined by crash testing vehicles in a controlled laboratory setting, while the used car safety ratings in this brochure are calculated using data from police reports on actual crashes. Research shows that the two ratings systems mostly have good correlation. However, the results should not be compared directly because the different sources of the ratings, and different assessment criteria, can lead to differences in the assessment of some vehicles.

14. What is the Monash University Accident Research Centre?

The Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) has been conducting research into issues relating to vehicle safety for over a decade.

It began developing consumer advice on vehicle safety based on mass crash data in 1990. The same year, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) and National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA) independently set out on a joint project to develop a car safety rating system based on police records of crashes. By 1991 they had produced a relative ranking of vehicles.

In mid 1991, the two groups began to work together and combine their data into one vehicle safety rating system. The Used Car Safety Ratings brochure, which has been produced periodically since 1992, resulted from that work.

They began working on Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) crash data in 2000 and Land Transport New Zealand is now a member of the Used Car Safety Ratings research group.

MUARC has extensive background in the area of vehicle safety research. Research from the Centre in the field has been presented at the most prestigious international vehicle safety conferences. The Centre also has an extensive publication record in the international peer review literature. Staff members from the Centre have leading roles in an international consortium of researchers producing vehicle safety ratings around the world.

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