Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Sorry, there are no cars that match your search

New car safety rules make us crash test dummies

The Renault Captur would only recieve a four-star safety rating under the current rules.

Australian drivers are about to become real-life crash-test dummies, because from next year it will be easier for less safe cars to earn a five-star safety rating.

The peak body that proudly closed a number of loopholes for crash rating requirements two years ago is about to reopen them so they are more closely aligned with European results, which are less stringent in two key areas. 

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) currently requires five-star cars to provide airbag protection for back seat passengers, and to score a minimum 12.5 points out of 16 in a head-on crash test, which measures a car’s ability to protect front seat passengers. 

However, from next year, Australia will accept EuroNCAP results even though they do not require five-star cars to provide airbag protection for back seat passengers. 

The European crash test body is also happy to elevate a car to five stars even if it scores less than 12.5 out of 16 in the critical frontal crash test. 

RELATED: Chinese ute safety slammed again

MORE: Indian ute scores two stars ahead of upgrade

VIDEO: Why side airbags are life savers

“Any move to water down safety standards is a raw deal for the consumer,” said Tom Godfrey, the spokesman for Australia’s peak consumer body Choice. 

“Any move to compromise these ratings in a bid to align with apparently weaker international criteria would not be a good thing for consumers.” 

Choice said ANCAP had done good work in the past at improving vehicle safety, but adopting Europe’s weaker testing measures was a step backwards. 

“Choice believes Australia should maintain the highest standards possible when it comes to car safety,” said Mr Godfrey.

Frontal crashes are more common but side impacts are more deadly, which is why ANCAP initially made side airbags mandatory for five-star cars. 

ANCAP is making the changes so its results become more closely aligned with EuroNCAP, to cut confusion among buyers, even though ANCAP preceded its European counterpart when it was established in 1993. 

The changes mean cars that would not qualify for a five-star rating in Australia today will get a five-star rating under the new rules. 

For example, the Renault Captur SUV, if it were launched in Australia this year as planned, would earn a four-star rating under the current guidelines because it lacks rear airbags.

But because Renault has delayed the launch until 2015 — when the relaxed rules are introduced — it will get a five-star rating. 

Renault Australia spokeswoman Emily Fadeyev insists the late arrival is due to “global demand and shipping delays” and not to take advantage of the rule change. 

EuroNCAP is not due to make rear airbags mandatory for five-star ratings until 2016, and currently has no plans to reinstate the minimum requirement of a 12.5 score out of 16 in the frontal crash test. 

ANCAP chief executive officer Nicholas Clarke told News Corp Australia: “Rear airbags are important, there’s no doubt about that. But Europe will require them (for five star ratings) in due course. There might be room for a little bit of confusion but we will respond to consumers as they arise. It’s really those that have a very active interest in safety that would pursue issues of rear airbags over no rear airbags.”

ANCAP is an independent body funded by the Federal Government, the roads and traffic authorities in each state and territory and some insurance companies. 

It has no power to stop a car from going on sale; instead it tests cars independently and then publishes the results in a star-rating system so consumers can distinguish the safety of new cars. 

ANCAP was the first body of its type in the world to insist cars must have airbag protection for back seat passengers if they are to be awarded five stars. 

ANCAP was also the first to mandate electronic stability control, which can prevent a skid in a corner and is viewed as the next big lifesaver after the seatbelt. 

The rules requiring rear airbags were initially made by ANCAP after a number of cars, including the 2008 Ford Falcon, scored a five-star rating even though they were not fitted with rear airbags. 

ANCAP changed the rules in 2013 to close the loophole and raise safety standards for family cars.

However after just two years, following pressure from some car makers who sell some models without rear airbag protection, ANCAP has announced it will relax this rule and align its testing criteria with its European counterparts. 

View cars for sale