Vehicle Safety

How is vehicle safety measured in New Zealand?


Vehicle safety is the most important factor to consider when buying a car, and here at the AA we always encourage buyers to find the safest vehicle their budget allows. 

Last month, it was reported that the Government is considering a ban on vehicle imports with a one or two-star safety rating. According to NZTA research, a driver in a one-star rated vehicle is 90% more likely to die or sustain a serious injury in a crash than if they were driving a five-star rated vehicle.

There are two methods used in New Zealand to rate the safety of a vehicle; the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) and Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR).

Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP)

Founded in 1993, ANCAP is the independent vehicle safety authority for Australasia, and conducts tests on new passenger, sports utility (SUV) and light commercial vehicles (LCV) entering New Zealand and Australia. It’s not mandatory to submit a vehicle for ANCAP crash testing, so not all new vehicles receive a rating.

Most NZ-new vehicles are given a star rating between one and five (with five being the highest) based on results from a selection of crash tests carried out in a strictly-controlled laboratory environment by ANCAP.

Every tested vehicle is scrutinised under the same set of crash situations (head on frontal, side pole impact, pedestrian protection etc.) Using male, female and child sized crash test dummies, the outcome of each test measured and given a score which is all added to achieve the final star rating.

The target in order to achieve 5 stars changes to reflect safety technology advances, and a car awarded five stars in 2009 is probably less safe than a car awarded five stars in 2019.

One of the benefits of ANCAP scores is that you’re comparing apples with apples - the rating was given for the tested vehicle of that year, which can be used to compare others of the same age and style.

Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR)

For vehicles without ANCAP ratings, UCSR is a good indicator of vehicle safety when purchasing a used car. These safety ratings are created by using records from over 8 million vehicles involved in police-reported crashes across Australia and New Zealand.

While UCSR assesses the risk of death or serious injury resulting in hospitalisation of a driver involved in a crash, it doesn’t assess the risk of being involved in a crash in the first place.  

“Safer Pick” vehicles listed in the ratings have been identified as having a reduced risk of injury to both the driver and other road users in a crash based on the crash avoidance features fitted; this includes electronic stability control (ESC).

Australia has strict rules on imported vehicles, so a lot of the Japanese imported vehicles we see in NZ may not be on the road in Australia. This means that quite often there simply isn’t enough crash data available for a vehicle to receive a UCSR rating.

How do I know what rating to look for?

Our car fleet is made up of a mixture of used import and NZ-new vehicles which proves to be a challenge as it’s not very often that two imported vehicles share the same safety specifications, even if they appear identical on the outside.

Many NZ-new vehicles can easily be differentiated from a Japanese domestic import thanks to a different model name. For example, a Honda Jazz would be NZ-new and a Honda Fit would be a used import. Some vehicles, however, share a model name no matter which country they were first registered in, like the Suzuki Swift.

As far as specifications go; some vehicles imported from Japan are very closely related to their NZ new variants, but some aren’t at all. For example, a Japanese domestic specification vehicle might only have two airbags, whereas a NZ-new model might have 6 airbags and stability control to ensure a superior level of safety.

Where to go

Make sure before you buy your next vehicle you check its safety features and its ratings at rightcar.govt.nz so you can make an informed safe decision.

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