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Crash tests on utes show value of airbags

The latest crash test results from the Australian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) have once again demonstrated the life-saving potential of airbags, this time in utility vehicles.

In test results for popular ute models announced by the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) today, airbags were the difference between three and four star ratings in terms of occupant protection.

The Australian-built Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon utes are the first Australian produced vehicles to receive four out of five stars in front and side impact crash testing. Both models are fitted with driver's airbags as standard equipment.

The Toyota Hilux 2wd, Holden Rodeo 2wd and Mazda Bravo/Bounty all received three star ratings, with the tests indicating a high risk of life threatening injury to the driver's head in a frontal impact. The Hilux, Rodeo and Bravo/Bounty all have optional airbags available, but they were not fitted to the models tested. The Mazda Bounty available in New Zealand is fitted with a driver's airbag as standard equipment.

Director of Land Transport Safety David Wright said the results provided more evidence that airbags can save lives, provided safety belts are also worn.

“We've seen similar results in crash tests on passenger cars, where airbags substantially reduce the chances of neck and head injuries in a frontal crash. The lesson to be learned is obvious - if you're in the market for a new vehicle, get one with airbags," Mr Wright said. All ANCAP tests measure protection to occupants wearing safety belts.

The latest ANCAP results show that the safety of utes has improved dramatically in recent years. When utes were first crash tested in 1995, the results showed a 94 percent chance of life-threatening head injuries in a frontal crash. In the latest tests, the chance of a similar injury had reduced to 26 percent for models without airbags and to 1.5 percent for those with airbags.

Crash test procedures involve an offset frontal test at 64 km/h, a side impact test at 50 km/h, and a pedestrian test that indicates likely injuries to pedestrians hit by a test vehicle travelling at 40 km/h.

None of the utes tested could be considered pedestrian friendly - all of the vehicles received two out of a possible four stars in the category.

The LTSA joined the ANCAP crash testing programme two years ago with the aim of improving consumer access to vehicle safety information and encouraging manufacturers to make further safety improvements to their vehicles.

Crash test results for over 100 vehicle models are now available from the LTSA website, www.ltsa.govt.nz. Brochures detailing test results can be ordered by ringing the LTSA Helpdesk on 0800 699 000.

The next round of ANCAP testing will assess the protection offered by small passenger cars in crashes. The results are due to be released in May.

ANCAP crash test results - Questions and Answers


Q: Do ANCAP results relate to real world occupant safety?

A: Yes. Studies conducted by Monash University show a strong correlation between the results offset frontal crash tests used by ANCAP and the outcome of on-road crashes.

A survey by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that cars which performed well in US NCAP crash tests experienced a lower occupant fatality rate in real world crashes than those that did poorly.


Q: What proportion of total serious injury and fatal crashes does ANCAP represent?

A: ANCAP tests vehicles in both frontal and side impact crashes. Over half of all injury crashes and one-third of fatal crashes on New Zealand roads involve a frontal impact. After frontal crashes side impact crashes make up the next highest number of serious injury and fatal crashes.

Future ANCAP programs will look at tests to measure occupant protection in other types of crashes, such as rollovers and rear end crashes.


Q: Which is the safest vehicle ever tested by ANCAP?

A: The test results can't prove which vehicle is the safest in all crashes. ANCAP evaluates the likelihood of serious injury to the head, chest and legs for drivers and front seat passengers involved in frontal crashes and side impact crashes.

In response to consumer demand for simple, non-technical presentation of results ANCAP has adopted the star rating system used by the European NCAP group. Results from both offset frontal tests and side impact tests are combined and rated from 1 to 5 stars. The results for an overall evaluation, as well as a more detailed analysis of the performance of different aspects of the vehicle’s performance are given.

Consumers should look for vehicles that have recorded scores in the 3 or 4 star ranges.


Q: What happens if a car fails?

A: There is no 'pass' or 'fail' in ANCAP tests. Based on the information gained from the crash tests, including measurements from the dummies and structural deformation, ANCAP rates the cars on the level of protection they would offer in this type of crash. The detailed information is summarised to provide an easy to understand consumer guide. Full results are available for use by anyone, including car manufacturers.


Q: How are the ratings determined from the crash data?

A: The Head Injury Criterion (HIC), chest deceleration data and leg load data are used to determine the level of protection from a life threatening or serious injury. The results from both offset frontal and side impact crashes are combined.

The performance of the vehicle structure and occupant restraint system is analysed from an inspection of the crashed vehicle and the high-speed film taken during the crash test. Using established criteria, based on those used by the EuroNCAP group, the performance of the vehicle structure and restraints system is assessed. The vehicle structure is assessed on the loss of occupant survival space and the occupant restraint system is assessed on the ability to restrain the dummy during the crash.

These ratings are combined to give an overall rating, which is a comprehensive assessment of the vehicle’s performance in these tests.


Q: Does ANCAP indicate whether a car is safe or unsafe?

A: ANCAP does not claim to represent all aspects of vehicle safety. It does, however, represent a major segment of passive vehicle safety (that is, safety in the event of a crash as opposed to active safety - avoidance of a crash) by representing the level of occupant protection provided in frontal and side crashes, which together account for more than 60 percent of crashes causing serious injury or death.


Q: Can there be a large variation in the test results of the same vehicle model?

A: The main factor affecting test variability is vehicle-to-vehicle structural variation. Large variations in results reported by the car industry are based on testing conducted over ten years ago when the consistency of car construction was more variable. That is, the vehicles varied, not the test parameters. This is a quality control issue that only vehicle manufacturers can address.

ANCAP has never claimed that ANCAP results are representative of a vehicle model's entire production run, but they are representative of a significant number of vehicles that will be bought by the public. Manufacturers are invited to witness ANCAP tests of their products and to comment on the results before they are published. If manufacturers have conducted NCAP type tests during product development, they will know whether the official ANCAP results are in line with their own results and can comment accordingly prior to public release of the ANCAP results.

So far, some manufacturers have provided their own test results and there have been useful discussions between the manufacturers and ANCAP. Other manufacturers have simply provided feedback that the ANCAP test results agree with their own in-house tests.


Q: Can ANCAP results be used to compare the relative safety of the vehicles tested?

A: ANCAP results can be used to compare the protection offered to occupants in the event of a severe frontal crash.

Care must be exercised when comparing results for different vehicles as only those vehicles of similar mass can be correctly compared. As a heavier vehicle will generally provide better protection in a collision with a smaller and lighter car, any result comparison should be restricted to cars of a similar class. To assist with the comparison ANCAP publishes the kerb weight of the cars tested.


Q: Why did the utilities perform so well in the side impact tests?

A: The utility vehicles performed much better in side impact tests than in the frontal impact test. Even the models which performed poorest in the frontal impact test achieved good scores in the side impact test. Overall, the high side impact scores have improved the utes' overall ratings considerably.

The side impact test involves a side impact barrier that is designed to represent a typical European passenger vehicle. It is lightweight (950kg) and has a deformable barrier face that has its lowest contact point at 300mm. Therefore, the barrier engages only the strong sill region (and also the cab) of tall vehicles such as utilities. As a result, the driver door does not suffer large deformations, which is critical to injury outcomes.

The instrumented parts of the driver dummy for head chest and abdomen measurements in these high seating vehicles are above the general region where the impacting vehicle is likely to strike and intrude, and so the likelihood of measuring high levels of injury are low. If a similar vehicle struck the high-seated vehicles, then the side impact injury measurements may be significantly higher. On the road it is most likely that the majority of striking vehicles would be passenger cars.

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