Vehicle safety advocates have applauded the introduction of a new Australian Design Rule, which they say will reduce deaths and serious injuries from side impacts.
The Federal Government has announced a new Australian Design Rule (ADR) for pole side impact performance, which will apply to light vehicles from November 2017 and light commercial vehicles from July 2018.
Minister for Major Projects Paul Fletcher says the new rule follows the development of an international standard for side impact crashes.
“This ADR is based on United Nations Global Technical Regulation (GTR) 14, which sets strict performance criteria for light passenger and commercial vehicles in side impacts with a narrow object such as a pole,” Fletcher says.
“However, it will also improve occupant protection in other side impacts, including car-to-car impacts.”
Fletcher says the new ADR will set performance criteria that require safety measures such as curtain side airbags, thorax airbags and better crash sensors.
“Side impacts account for over 20% of Australian road deaths and a disproportionately high number of brain injuries, which carry a huge social cost,” he continues. “It is estimated that this measure will save 128 lives and avoid 195 severe or moderate brain injuries over 15 years, while providing net benefits to the community of $417 million.”
ANCAP CEO James Goodwin claims the group’s testing has been a key motivator for car makers to improve occupant safety levels.
"ANCAP has required vehicles to undergo a pole side impact test since 2003 in order to be eligible for a five star safety rating which has led to a significant increase in the fitment of curtain airbags, providing substantial reductions in injury in side impacts," Goodwin says.
"This is a welcome development that will lift vehicle safety standards and go a long way to helping save hundreds of lives.”
ANCAP’s pole test involves a car being propelled sideways at 29km/h into a rigid pole aligned with the driver’s head.
RAA Senior Manager, Mobility and Automotive Policy Mark Borlace agrees that the non-mandatory testing has meant most manufacturers have introduced safety measures in-line with the pole test.
“There hasn’t been a mandated pole test that manufacturers have had to comply with,” he says.
“The pole test that’s been used previously has been done by ANCAP and independent, non-regulatory testing authorities. It’s proven to be a test that causes the manufacturers to re-design their vehicles to take these point tests.”
With relatively new vehicle manufacturers now throwing their hats into the ring, Borlace says the new requirements will give consumers and fleet managers greater peace of mind.
“For those companies that are new to the market, some of the Chinese or other manufacturers, who are still learning their safety game, this will mean there’s an automatic regulatory limit they have to jump over to start with,” he says.
Borlace says pole side impact performance is particularly important in high centre-of-gravity vehicles, such as four-wheel drives.
“If you look at a lot of the normal side-impact tests, which is a sledge driven into the side of the vehicle, four-wheel drives have traditionally done quite well on them, because the sledge hits them at their strongest point – at the bottom of the floor,” he says.
“They don’t do so well in pole tests. The mass starts to work against them, because the load is being taken over a small area.”
Vehicles such as four-wheel drives are also more likely to be involved in side collisions with trees or poles, Borlace says.
“The reason that’s important is because of what we call ‘run-off-road struck fixed-object accidents’,” he says. “They’re normally single vehicle accidents, that often occur in high centre-of-gravity vehicles. That can be because of a culmination of a couple of things – people stack the four-wheel drive with a roof-rack and it becomes less stable, and they drop a wheel off the side of the bitumen and overcorrect, or they go into a bend on a dirt road and misjudge their speed and slide into poles, or they go to sleep and go off the side of the road.
“If you look at single-vehicle run-offs, it’s most common in four-wheel drives or high centre-of-gravity vehicles. They’re the ones who are inherently less stable on wet or dirt roads and more likely to have this type of accident. Smaller cars are a little easier to control, they’re less likely to be out on country roads, and they’re normally more stable because people don’t tend to load them up to the gunnels.
“This mandating of the pole side impact performance means that cars that are coming to market now will have to have it, so by default, there should be more cars out there that should be able to protect people. We expect it will help with improvements in safety, and therefore serious injury and death.”
While other parts of the world such as Japan and Europe will also be adopting GTR 14, it is believed Australia will be the first country to implement the standard.