Peter Anderson | Aug 9, 2012

Australians driving around in unsafe “shockers”

The Australian road toll costs the taxpayer $27billion per year, ANCAP CEO Nicholas Clarke has revealed to TMR.

To put this in perspective, the cost is a similar amount to the total Australian defence budget of $26.7billion. It is an astonishing cost and one that concentrates the minds of governments and regulators, both federal and state.

The testing regime of ANCAP, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, assesses and measures the performance of the dynamic and passive safety features of new cars, and the protection they afford to occupants - in both crash avoidance and when crashed.

And, while crash-testing new cars in the name of safety is expensive - and a cost borne by car manufacturers - the effect of unsafe cars is far more expensive Mr Clarke said.

“It's extraordinary (the $27billion cost of the road toll), so every life we can save and every injury we can stop, apart from the obvious human trauma costs and the emotional strain of all that, saves real dollars.”

Every year, around 1200 people die on Australian roads, with an additional 32,000 injured. According to Mr Clarke, the blame for some of these deaths can be sheeted home to Australia's ageing national fleet.

"We've got an average in the carpark of about ten years, we've still got millions of unsafe cars on the roads. All those cars we tested in the nineties to the early 2000s before we had five star ratings, they are shockers," Mr Clarke said.

“They are one, two and three stars by today's standards, and we still have people driving those vehicles. There's still a huge way to go to convince consumers that they need to get into safer cars."

The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce would agree. For the past decade it has conducted a campaign for annual checks of the critical safety features of vehicles.

“There are more unsafe vehicles are on our roads than people realise. According to VACC data, one in four vehicles on Victoria’s roads is unsafe,” VACC Executive Director told TMR.

“We would like vehicle safety to be recognised as one of the priority issues."

“Speed, drink and drug drivers have been identified as key contributors to crashes and fatalities; however, VACC believes that unsafe and poorly maintained vehicles are also contributing factors,” he said.

David Purchase, Executive Director VACC
David Purchase, Executive Director VACC

VACC has a point. Bald tyres, or failing unmaintained brake discs undermine the effective operation of dynamic safety features like ESC and ABS.

Why build such electronic systems into a car, if the mechanical systems on which they depend can be poorly maintained, or never inspected over the life of ownership of a vehicle?

Nicholas Clarke acknowledges that ANCAP testing, and the work his organisation does in working with manufacturers to improve the safety features and systems built into a car, is just one part of the puzzle in reducing the road toll.

"ANCAP and vehicle testing and vehicle safety is one pillar in the safe systems approach to road safety. The safe systems approach is about safer drivers, safer roads, safer cars, safer speeds," he said.

Vehicle manufacturers would argue that they are rising to the challenge in building safer cars at a diminishing cost to car buyers.

But with a road toll cost of $27billion annually, we might wonder if state jurisdictions are doing enough to ensure vehicles are maintained safely, and that the road systems are as good and as safe for road users as they should be.

"We're increasingly removing the greatest risk and the weakest link in driving, and that's the driver.

“Let's forget about the driver, let's give him the system that supports him - better roads, better training, safer speeds and all the rest of it. Most importantly, let's give him a car that won't kill him if he happens to make a mistake," Mr Clarke said.

With Tim O’Brien
TMR Managing Editor