How safe is YOUR car? Crash testing is make or break for car brands

The last thing anyone wants is to be involved in an accident, but when this fear becomes a reality, it’s reassuring to know that our car has all the necessary safety features.

And it’s up to lab tests and crash test dummies — costing hundreds of thousands of pounds each and packed with sensors — to keep you and your loved ones safe in the event of a road accident.

Dummies are the high-tech guinea pigs used in real cars to check how a human driver, their passengers and pedestrians would fare in a serious collision.

Packed with features: Skoda’s Enyaq iV Sportline 80 was one of the safest cars tested by EuroNCAP so far this year

The big Bang

The independent crash testing program arrived in the UK a quarter of a century ago in 1996 – with the first results published in February 1997.

And next week the results of a final round of about a dozen crash tests for 2021 will be published – and while some automakers whose vehicles perform well will rejoice, they are expected to be inconvenient reading for others.

The European New Car Rating Program – commonly referred to as EuroNCAP – has shed light on the most important issue of vehicle safety and has given consumers an easy-to-read five-star rating to assess how safe their and other vehicles are.

Of the cars tested this year, the Subaru Outback (from £33,995) is the highest rated ‘across the board’ among the top five-star vehicles.

The first published British and European tests in 1997 caused a stir when the popular Rover 100 received an infamous one star rating out of the then four maximum – at a time when a zero rating didn’t exist.

The system was initially met with resistance from automakers who maintained that their own internal standards were more than adequate. But EuroNCAP ratings quickly skyrocketed, with those automakers doing well to claim “bragging rights” to advertise how safe their cars were.

In contrast, those who did poorly were shamed to raise their game.

Publishing the test results — alongside dramatic photos and videos of the ongoing tests and their aftermath — had a major impact. Essentially, you score poorly and run the risk of losing business. Score well and watch those cars roll out of the showrooms.

Six 2021 ‘Five Star’ Cars

To slow down

In the 1990s, the UK and other European countries established EuroNCAP, with tests in the UK initially conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory and supported by the Department for Transport.

Thatcham Research joined EuroNCAP in 2004 and now represents the UK and conducts research leading to the introduction of whiplash testing in 2009.

The 2011 tests included active safety systems, with Electronic Stability Control and Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Keeping Assist and Lane Keeping Assist in 2014.

New tests include improved AEB systems that can detect and prevent collisions with motorcycles and scooters, as well as monitor the driver for signs of drowsiness or distraction.

Crash Course: Putting the Subaru Outback through its EuroNCAP front impact safety tests

Crash Course: Putting the Subaru Outback through its EuroNCAP front impact safety tests

Over a quarter of a century, Euro NCAP has assessed about 900 vehicle models, of which Thatcham Research in Berkshire has tested about 40 models – crashing 150 individual cars – since it became an accredited EuroNCAP testing facility in 2012.

The preparation and execution of crash tests generally takes about two weeks. And some self-locking tests take place in the middle of the night to check how well cars recognize and avoid pedestrians in the dark.

Inspectors analyze the vast amounts of data and videos and even disassemble the test vehicles to ensure their performance is robust.

Although it is a voluntary scheme, EuroNCAP testers have bought cars on the open market for testing, if manufacturers have shown reluctance.

A spokesperson for EuroNCAP said: ‘When it started, the aim was to create an independent safety rating that went beyond the minimum requirements of safety legislation, so that consumers could make an informed choice when purchasing a new car.’

Tried and tested

Fiat rose to fame in 2017 when its largely unaltered Punto model was awarded ‘zero stars’, despite having achieved a first-class ‘5 stars’ five years earlier.

Examples of crash test simulations

  • A head-on collision with a brick wall.
  • An almost head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle.
  • A ‘pole test’ – slipping sideways into a signpost or telegraph pole or tree.
  • Whiplash-inducing accidents testing seat and headrests.

Fiat had made no safety improvements at the time, not even standard side airbags. For similar reasons, the Fiat Panda was also re-rated as zero stars in 2018.

The £7,995 budget Dacia Sandero was also recently stripped of its What Car? Car of the Year award after subsequently scoring only two stars out of five for failing to have an emergency braking system in crash tests (which would have given it a 4-star rating).

The protection of children, cyclists and pedestrians is now also essential. And a vehicle’s star rating can only be as high as the lowest score on an individual test.

A new test mimics the effect of collisions between vehicles of different sizes to ensure that the large all-terrain vehicle does not protect its occupants at the expense of the smaller car.

Encouragingly, the 2020/21 results show several top five-star cars with ratings of over 90 percent protection for adult occupants, and over 80 percent for children, pedestrians and ‘safety assistance’.

Some photos of cars collapsing in a collision may seem dramatic, but that’s what they’re supposed to do. Cars are designed with ‘crumple zones’ to dissipate most of the energy before it reaches the occupants.

Experts calculate that more than 182,000 have been killed and seriously injured on UK roads since the introduction of EuroNCAP safety tests for cars.

The number of pedestrians and cyclists killed or seriously injured has fallen from 14,500 in 1997 to 8,500 in 2015. Between 1997 and 2017, the annual number of deaths on UK roads halved from 3,599 to 1,793.

  • Check the safety rating of your own or future car at: euroncap.com/en/ratings-rewards

Charging crisis affects owners of electric cars

Q: The number of cars sharing each public charging point has increased from 11 to 16 . between 2019 and 2020

Q: The number of cars sharing each public charging point has increased from 11 to 16 . between 2019 and 2020

“We’ve taken care of building the electric cars for you — do your part now to keep up with plenty of public charging points on the street.”

That is broadly the message from British car manufacturers to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and the government this week.

Frustrated by the outcry of ministers banning petrol and diesel cars from 2030, automakers who have switched production to battery vehicles emphasize how the government is now the biggest brake on electric car use.

A new analysis from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders shows that the number of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles sharing every standard public charge point grew by nearly a third (31 percent) last year.

The number of cars sharing each public charging point has increased from 11 to 16 vehicles between 2019 and 2020.

It added that only one new charger will be installed for every 52 new electric vehicles registered.

According to the report, the UK’s 16 to 1 ratio of plug-in vehicles to standard public chargers has deteriorated to become one of the worst in the top ten global electric vehicle markets.

In the UK, London has the best car to charger ratio of 10 to 1, but this has fallen from 5 to 1 in 2019.

The East of England has the lowest ratio, with only one standard public charger for every 49 plug-in vehicles. Wales beat the national average by a ratio of 12 to 1, with Scotland at 17 to 1.

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