Road safety advocates have again targeted older cars as a key cause behind young driver deaths, with figures showing vehicles more than 10 years old are over-represented in fatal crashes.
However, despite the alarming statistics being highlighted by authorities for several years, not one state or territory government has an incentive program that would enable novice drivers to better afford a newer and safer car – instead leaving the financial burden on P-platers and their families.
Data released by Queensland motoring body RACQ revealed young drivers spend on average $6000 on their first car and the vehicles were an average of 11 years old.
“It’s concerning our youngest drivers, with the least amount of on-road experience are getting around in some of the oldest cars – with some only rated one or two stars for safety,” said RACQ head of technical and safety policy, Steve Spalding.
“It’s important first time drivers and their parents consider the safety star ratings which indicate how well each vehicle protects the driver, occupants and other road users in a crash.”
The RACQ released the figures as part of the annual used car safety rankings conducted by Melbourne’s Monash University and supported by the motoring clubs in each state and territory.
The 2019 Used Car Safety Ratings showed that used cars with five-star safety ratings generally performed well in real-world crashes, however some of results may have been skewed because they sell in relatively small numbers or, conversely, relatively high numbers.
For example, the best small used cars for real-world safety according to the survey were, in no particular order, the Mazda3 (2013 to 2017), Nissan Pulsar (2012 to 2017), Volkswagen Golf (2013 to 2017) and Toyota Prius (2009 to 2016). Each of these vehicles earned a five-star rating based on real-world crash data.
However, the Toyota Corolla (2012 to 2017) scored two stars in the survey even though it was given a five-star safety rating by ANCAP and has the same levels of occupant protection as the Prius that earned a five-star used-car safety score.
The fact that the Corolla is sold is such huge numbers – and with a larger proportion to rental, government and business fleets – means the chance of a Corolla being involved in a fatal crash is higher due to either driver inexperience, unfamiliar roads, or travelling longer distances than, say, the Mazda3 and VW Golf, both of which are skewed towards private buyers who travel shorter distances and are barely represented on rental fleets.
The same trend can be seen in the medium-car class. According to the 2019 Used Car Safety Ratings, in no particular order the Mazda6 (2012 to 2017), Peugeot 407 (2004 to 2011), Subaru Liberty (2009 to 2014), and VW Passat (2006 to 2015) were given a five-star safety rating based on real-world crash data.
However, the top-selling car in the class, the Toyota Camry (2011 to 2017) earned only a four-star rating even though it earned a five-star safety rating in crash tests when new. As with the Toyota Corolla, the Camry is sold to a higher proportion of rental, government and business fleets – which travel further each year than cars owned by private buyers – and therefore has a greater chance of being involved in fatal crashes.
In the large-car class the Holden Commodore (2013 to 2017) earned five stars in the 2019 used car safety ratings alongside the BMW 5 Series (2003 to 2010), Mercedes E-Class (2009 to 2016), and Volvo V70 (2000 to 2007), however all of these models sold in relatively small numbers, including the Commodore in its years of decline before local manufacturing ended.
To further highlight the point, in the Light Car class, the slow-selling Honda City sedan (2009 to 2013) scored a five-star rating based on real-world crash results while the much more popular Honda Jazz hatch (2008 to 2014) earned only a two-star score – even though they are structurally identical from the windscreen forward and have the same side airbag and restraint systems.
Since its inception, the annual Used Car Safety Rating scorecard has consistently shown that cars with five-star crash test scores when new can later be penalised by their popularity – because more examples of them on the road means they have a greater chance of being involved in fatal crashes.
The study has also given five-star used-car ratings to vehicles that were not good enough to earn a five-star safety rating when crash tested by the independent authority ANCAP when new.
For example, the Hyundai iLoad van only has a four-star rating according to crash tests by independent authority ANCAP – when most of its newer peers now have a five-star score – but the Monash University Used Car Safety Study has awarded the same vehicle a five-star rating because it is under-represented in fatal crashes.
The used-car data puts the annual Monash University Study at odds with ANCAP crash test safety findings – because the university is yet to find a way to remove the skew for vehicle popularity and distances travelled.
Earlier this year ANCAP released a report that found most cars introduced since 2011 and 2012 – that are now affordable used cars – have excellent occupant protection in the real world following their initial five-star crash test ratings when new.
“From our point of view, most cars from 2011 to 2012 represent the real turning point for vehicle safety,” says James Goodwin, the CEO of ANCAP.
“We noticed a significant improvement in structural integrity and airbag and restraint systems across most segments of passenger vehicles from that period,” he said.
Newer vehicles are “still getting better, but that has largely been driven by crash avoidance technology,” Mr Goodwin added. “Our advice is to choose the safest car that you can afford and which suits your needs.”
While Mr Goodwin stopped short of calling for state and territory governments to offer cash incentives to younger drivers when buying their first car, he said: “We need to have a co-ordinated approach to look at reducing the vehicle fleet age and improving the accessibility or safer vehicles, particular for younger people.”