In the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria's car blind-spot table, none of the 138 vehicles rated scored the maximum five stars.
Only the Volkswagen Golf and Citroen C4 scored four. More than 80 per cent of the cars in the study rated one or two stars. Top sellers such as the Holden Commodore, Honda City and Accord and Hyundai i20 score only one.
RACV chief engineer Michael Case said increasingly sleek car designs make for increased structural strength and better economy but the trade-off is a lack of visibility from the driver's seat.
"There has been a huge focus on improving the safety performance of modern vehicles," Mr Case said. "Initially this was about adding safety equipment but progressively it has been about changing the fundamental design to perform better in a crash. That has translated into design features (such as thicker and wider windscreen pillars), which for styling and aerodynamics often need to have quite a slope and for sufficient strength, particularly for rollover crashes."
The RACV found in many vehicles, this greatly reduced forward visibility "which can ironically affect the car's safety performance".
Testers rotated a laser beam 180 degrees from the driver's seat and located obstructions.
The current VE Commodore is a classic example, Mr Case said: "It has been designed for the best possible safety, but from day one it has had a very thick pillar, which has noticeable visibility problems."
Mr Case said makers are under pressure to create aerodynamic vehicles with good fuel economy as well as high safety ratings and it is difficult to find the right balance. He said the Golf and C4 Picasso also score top marks in Australian crash tests and high scores in the Australian green vehicle guide meaning "it is possible to combine top safety performance with good fuel economy and visibility".
Mr Case said there are no crash statistics on forward visibility, but he suspected it would be a major problem at pedestrian crossings and roundabouts, placing pedestrians and cyclist in danger.
"It is a concern that in some cars a pedestrian or cyclist can be lost in a blind spot from as close as 9 metres and a driver can lose sight of another vehicle from about 20 metres."
VISION IMPAIRED - THE '1 STAR' CARS
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