Car Advice

What exactly is an ANCAP 5-star crash safety rating, and why we need to improve crash test ratings…

Another day, another 5-star crash safety rating from ANCAP or EuroNCAP. But, Is there a better way?

AUSTRALIA HAS DONE much to improve road safety and is rightly proud of initiatives such as mandating electronic stability control. There’s also a sustained effort to reduce known causes of incidents such as drink and drug driving. 

And there’s ANCAP, the new car safety rating system which has helped raise awareness of safety systems and provides pressure on manufacturers to make safety features standard. Who knows how many lives have been saved as a result – all we know is that it would be a lot.
 
But good though it is, we think the ANCAP standard is due for a redesign.

What exactly does ANCAP test now?

Here’s a table showing what tests are done, and how they have evolved over time (source):

ANCAP-ratings

The frontal offset score is a crash test, as is the side impact and pole test. A vehicle is crashed into an object at a specific speed and dummies in the front seats are analysed to determine likely injuries. The results of these three tests are combined to get a score of out 37, and 32.5 is the minimum to be eligible for 5-star – but that’s eligible, not given. To get a 5-star rating the car must also score (for 2016) at least Acceptable for pedestrian impact, and Good for whiplash.
 
The whiplash test is described by ANCAP as “The car’s seat is mounted to a test sled which is propelled forward to simulate a rear-end crash – equivalent to a stationary car being hit at 32 km/h.”
 
Then there’s the SAT, which are Safety Assist Technologies. These are the active systems which try and prevent dangerous situations happening in the first place, as distinct from taking action after the event. SAT includes AEB, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning. Passive systems include airbags and rollover hoops. Systems like ABS and stability control occupy a middle ground where a dangerous situation is in progress and the idea here is to prevent an accident or reduce its impact. There is a full list of SAT and definitions on the ANCAP site here.
 
The SAT-related acronyms in the table above mean:
  • 3PSB – three-point seatbelts, as distinct from just a lap-sash for example.
  • HPT – head protecting technology eg. side airbags.
  • ESC and EBA – stability control and electronic brake assist, explained in full here.
  • SBR – seat belt reminder in case you drive off without the belt clicked in.
  • TT – top tether anchorages for child seats (where applicable)
For 2016, cars rated 5-star must have the mandatory ESC, 3PSB, HPT and EBA. There must be SBR for the first and second row seats. They must also have a score of 6 for SAT beyond the mandatory, and the SAT must be standard. If it’s not standard – usually fitted only to higher trim grades – then the SAT scores halve. Examples of SAT that may be counted towards a 5-star score include adaptive headlights, active cruise control, fatigue detection, blind spot monitoring, AEB, daytime running lights, electronic data recorder, EBD, hill launch control, rollover protection, speed alerts, reversing collision avoidance (cameras not sensors) and tyre pressure monitoring.
 
ANCAP has made their tests more stringent over time, so it is becoming harder to achieve a 5-star rating – a 5-star car in 2015 is much safer than a 5-star car of 2010. That’s why ANCAP has brought out year ratings, so it’s not “5 Star”, it’s “5 Star, 2015”. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not great. For too long the message has been 5 star, 5 star, and it’ll be hard to change that now. You can also bet manufacturers will do their best to not mention the year if it’s not going to help their cause.
 
Clearly, not all of the SAT technologies are equal in safety value. Adaptive headlights, for example, are surely not in the same league as reversing cameras (think children on driveways) or AEB. Fatigue is very important, but the current state of technology is very poor so it shouldn’t be rated highly.

How could the ratings be improved? 

  • Rate safety for all occupants The safety rating system only considers occupants in the first row. Not the second or the third. The Japanese equivalent to ANCAP (JNCAP) puts its dummies in the driver’s side of the car when it does the offset test. Even if no testing was done, many cars have poor headrests and seatbelt adjustment in the rear compared to the front which should be a factor in rating safety.
  • Account for size. Fact is, larger cars are safer than smaller cars. We understand why those differences are played down – so there’s no rush towards big vehicles – but it doesn’t change the laws of physics. ANCAP do recognise this and say “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 category/mass.”
  • Cover child ratings NCAP and JNCAP already have tests on this topic. However, ANCAP have looked into this and say “However, due to fundamental differences in the types of child restraints used in Australia, ANCAP does not currently publish a child occupant rating like the one published by Euro NCAP” (source) and recommend people look at the Child Restraint Evaluation Programme. That said, there’s more to child safety. Some cars have seatbelts that are way too high up the neck for smaller children, not all have ISOFIX points, not all have child restraint points or childproof window locks. Parents would not wish to buy a car that’s safe in the front but not in the rear. Lots can be done without a crash test.
  • Test usability. Driver distraction is a big problem, and the problem is modern cars are becoming harder to use. Fiddly, slow screens, low-mounted controls are problems leading to driver distraction which as we’re constantly reminded, is a major factor in crashes. This is hard to measure, but here’s some ideas. The basic controls (aircon, volume etc) should be easily operated without looking at the controls, or referring to the owner’s manual! No control should require more than one additional control to be operated, a standard already used or considered by the likes of Google with Android Auto and Apple with CarPlay.
  • Account for vehicle maneuverability and braking. Already done by JNCAP and KNCAP to some extent. We have minimum standards for roadworthiness, but it would be good to see which cars can stop most safely and quickly. All else being equal, heavier cars take longer to stop so that starts to cancel the bigger car = safer idea.
  • Measure visibility. Modern cars are generally hard to see out of as windows become smaller, A-pillars become thicker because of airbags and strength. If the driver can’t see out properly, then that’s a huge problem. It would not be too hard to use three standard drivers (short, average, tall) and take a visibility index. Wouldn’t even need to crash a car.
  • Rate more SAT. Safety Assistance Technologies can hugely improve a car’s safety, so how about giving credit for everything a car has, rather than a minimum extra of 6 points?
  • Define safety ratings for specific types of user. We’d also like to see safety on a user-needs basis. Let’s say you buy a new 4WD wagon. Let’s look at two different types of common user:
     
    The trailer tower – let’s say grey nomads on a ski trip – they may well be towing a big trailer. SAT like tyre pressure monitoring, trailer stability control, fatigue detection, rollover detection and active cruise control would be important to them. High-speed AEB would be valuable.
    The suburban family – never going to tow, mostly local use. Here we need low-speed (city) AEB, reversing cameras and a focus on second and third-row safety.
    Essentially, the use you put the car to will determine what sort of safety tech is best, and ANCAP should factor that in, either with sub-ratings by use, or a guide to common car usage scenarios. This would also help people option their cars.
And the big one:
  • More stars so we can easily compare cars
Yes, just add stars. We can go from 5-star car, to a 6-star, to 7-star.
 
Every year the experts sit down and look at what new safety tech is out. Let’s say that we have two cars, both scoring 5 star at the moment but one has a good AEB and the other doesn’t. Maybe the criteria for 6 stars becomes use of AEB. And so on.
 
Manufacturers would love it because if they are the first to have say a 6-star car that would be a huge PR coup for them. They’d claim it as first 6-star 4WD, first 6-star coupe and so on. Consumers would benefit because the number of stars is easy to figure out, a 5-star car is clearly not as good as a 7-star car, easier than having to notice that it’s 5-star 2014 or 5-star 2016, then dig into the differences.
 
What about minimum star ratings? ANCAP at present say buy only 5-star cars, advice which all should heed. But that could be simply changed year on year to “buy 6-star, then 7-star” and the like. Create an “ANCAP approved” sticker or something, with the year on it.
 
ANCAP themselves have already thought about going beyond 5 stars. Here’s its view:
 
Will ANCAP safety ratings increase beyond 5 stars (i.e. 6 stars, 7 stars and so on), or will 5 stars remain the highest ANCAP safety rating?

No. Rather than increase the number of stars awarded to a vehicle, ANCAP will maintain its 1-5 star rating scale with 5 stars remaining the maximum safety rating possible. The requirements to achieve each of the existing star rating levels however will increase year on year. To encourage the early introduction of new vehicle safety features and advanced safety technologies – promoting continuous improvement in vehicle safety – ANCAP has been progressively raising the bar since 2011.

To achieve an ANCAP safety rating – of whichever star rating level – a vehicle must achieve minimum scores in each of the physical tests as well as meet minimum requirements for the inclusion of key safety features and SAT which may help prevent, or minimise the impact of, a crash. In the next few years, ANCAP will introduce further updates to the existing suite of physical tests as well as add new physical and performance tests to its test regime.

As of mid-March, nineteen of the last 20 tests are 5-star rated, and 36 out of the last 40.  You can see the latest tests at this link. And on 17/3/2016 one of the 4-star cars, the Kia Carnival, has been re-tested and scored 5 stars.
 
These are just ideas, and a full exploration of the issues and solutions would take more time than we have space for. What is clear is that while ANCAP does sterling work every day and has made us all more aware of safety issues, the current rating system is far from ideal and could easily be improved.

How will ANCAP change its test in the future?

From the ANCAP website:
 
From 2018 ANCAP will align with Euro NCAP which will see the introduction of a number of new physical crash tests and performance assessments of safety assist technologies (SAT). The calculation method used to determine ANCAP safety ratings will also change.
 
This makes sense, as cars become more and more globalised. It should mean that we get more results for more cars, and quicker.  Here’s how the transition will happen:
ANCAP-future
The Euro NCAP system will split the ratings into four areas, each with a weighting that goes to make up an overall rating:
 
EuroNCAP
This is good but not ideal, because it doesn’t allow you to choose your own type of safety. For example if you aren’t going to carry children you might want to focus more on the other ratings. The pedestrian rating sounds good, but if your vehicle use is mostly rural then you’d want more focus on the occupant protection. And not all safety assist technologies are equally applicable to all uses.
 
Full details of the Euro NCAP rating system can be found here.

What are your views? Do you think the ANCAP ratings are good enough, or need an overhaul, and if so, how?

 

  • Jason sabeeney

    As usual Robert, a very good article. I agree ANCAP needs an overhaul. I support your idea of 6 and 7 star ratings. I also support your idea of ratings based on use patterns. Currently there is little way of differentiating all the 5 star cars when clearly differences do exist and should be clearly identified and appropriately rewarded. The ANCAP system becomes less relevant when 36 out of 40 vehicles achieve the top gong.

  • Andrew Riles

    I definitely think there should be ratings on systems that prevent a crash, though it hadn’t occurred to me to include driver distraction and visibility in that….especially rearward visibility…..

    Almost unbelievably….my wife’s 2013 Mazda 3 has worse rear visibility than my 96 dualcab 4WD HiLux….this rising waistline style is getting ridiculous…..

  • Giles

    Good article but it doesn’t refer to the small overlap test by iihs in the US. This is a much more severe test on the front structure of a car than the 40% overlap used by Ancap. For example the Hyundai Santa Fe gets 5 stars here but only a marginal mark on the small overlap test. The new Kia Sorento though receives a ‘good’ mark. Compare the photos…

    • Andrew Riles

      The small overlap tests are apparently more representative of real world head ons than the 40% ANCAP use…..so definitely a worthwhile inclusion….

      Some interesting results too, both good and bad, the Wrangler 4 door for example glances off the barrier and continues on forward instead of bouncing off it at 90 degrees or so….

  • mtbrider

    The system definitely needs to come into the 21st Century. It could be seen as cynical to say that most vehicle manufactures will only do the minimum they have to do in order to comply with the legislative safety requirements of the day. That is so they can sell their products with maximum profitability to keep their shareholders happy. Maximum profit per vehicle is their key motivator. There are a few exceptions to the minimum safety we can get away with rule namely Volvo, the defunct SAAB, and Mercedes etal. ANCAP and its associated safety ratings would be the proverbial thorn in the side of some of those manufacturers that don’t want to innovate in the area of safety but they are forced to if they want to sell vehicles. People have been taught and have learned well to always look for the ANCAP safety star rating on vehicles but some manufactures would love it if people just saw the shiny new alloy wheel upgrade that cost zero dollars to implement. So as stated in the article above ANCAP has been so successful that we are now at a stage where nearly all new vehicles are 5 star rated but are clearly not the same. ANCAP is hopefully a mature enough organisation, and not a bunch of self opinionated navel gazers, to find the ability to look inward and see that they must now subject themselves to the same scrutiny that they subject the manufactures to. They must innovate and evolve or become a victim of their own success which will see them become as irrelevant as their 5 star safety rating. A 6, 7 or even 10 star rating is the only way forward and to deny that is to ignore the very reason all vehicles, even bottom of the range entry level cars, are so much safer today than they were even 5 or 10 years ago. Even my washing machine can get up to a 6 star rating so why not my vehicle? Increasing the star rating (everyone is familiar with stars so why change) is the only way that manufacturers will be, shall we say encouraged, to continue to increase safety and to innovate so they have more stars than the other brand selling along side them. If only 5 stars remain a lot of manufactures will simply wipe their hands of safety innovation and say job done we have the maximum by doing the minimum. The perfect example of this is the new premium Euro brand V6 dual cab ute that has just been released. A so called premium brand and no rear seat occupant airbags which is great I suppose if you don’t really like your kids or mother in law, but seriously up to a $70K price tag and no rear airbags for a brand new 2017 released dual cab 4wd vehicle that is actively being targeted at and being purchased by families. A $14K city car even gets rear seat airbags. But as ANCAP doesn’t review rear passenger safety this vehicle has been released into the market and will probably be able to claim 5 start rating. Change has to come within ANCAP to make this morally inexcusable behaviour unacceptable by not only this but any other manufacturer.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a freelance journalist, driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com