Recent independent crash tests have shown that some popular cars sold in Latin America are twenty years behind European or North American vehicles in their crash safety performance. With the developing world experiencing massive growth in vehicle numbers there is an urgent need to improve vehicle safety.
Cars sold in Latin America are 20 years behind the US and EU in safety performance
Vehicle numbers could double over the next decade
Latin NCAP brings together motoring organisations, NGOs and consumer groups
Max Mosley, Chairman of Global NCAP: “We need to help consumers around the world make informed choices when they buy new cars”.
Industry analysts expect an unprecedented increase in the number of vehicles over the next ten years, with car numbers potentially doubling from around 800 million now to an incredible 1.5 billion by 2020. The BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other fast developing nations will be where this growth occurs.
If the predictions are correct, or even should the increase in car numbers be lower as a result of government policy intervention or slower economic growth, the world faces a major social and environmental challenge in coping with greater demand for motorised mobility. Not least of these challenges is the impact on road safety, including for occupants of the vehicles themselves.
Since the 1960s, when campaigners like Ralph Nader began highlighting the need for stronger industry regulation to protect consumers, cars in the industrialised West have gradually become safer for occupants. This has been the result of a combination of safety technologies promoting ‘passive’ crash protection (e.g. crumple zones, seat belts, air bags) and ‘active’ crash avoidance systems (e.g. electronic stability control).These improvements have contributing significantly to reductions in road fatalities. For example in the United States the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that safety technologies saved 328,550 lives between 1960 and 2002.
The challenge over the next ten years is to ensure that the same level of progress also occurs in the rapidly motorizing emerging economies. This can be done partly through regulation, for example, by countries adopting the minimum regulatory standards developed by the UN World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations. However, regulatory steps are often slow and inadequately enforced. An additional innovative and market-based approach to vehicle safety is consumer information provided by New Car Assessment Programmes (NCAPs). By empowering the consumer, NCAPs also facilitate civil society partnerships involving consumer groups, automobile clubs, fleet managers, and NGOs to raise awareness of the safety choices we all can make when buying an automobile.
The traditional car producing territories (US, Japan, EU, Australia) all have independent NCAPs which test and publish consumer star rating information for popular models of car. These NCAPs have proved very effective and innovative in creating a market for safety, encouraging car purchasers to choose safer products, and car manufacturers to provide them. The resulting improvements in vehicle crashworthiness and occupant protection have been a major contributor to fatality reductions in the industrialised countries over the last twenty years. For example, research for the Swedish Government into the impact of the European New Car Assessment Programme found that there is a 12% reduction in risk of serious injury for every Euro NCAP star achieved (maximum five stars). A 5 star Euro NCAP car has been estimated to have a 36% lower fatality risk than a car that passes the minimum front and side impact international standards of the UN World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations (UNECE Reg Nos: 94/95). Yet many cars produced in newly motorising countries do not yet even meet these UN standards.
The Global Plan for the UN Decade includes a section dedicated to vehicle safety. This includes a specific recommendation that governments support the development of New Car Assessment Programmes. To assist this process, the Road Safety Fund is supporting the Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP), an international charity based in the UK which provides financial, technical and policy support to assist the development of new NCAPs, entirely independent of the automobile industry, in rapidly motorizing regions. Through a grant to the Road Safety Fund from the FIA Foundation, Global NCAP is supporting new NCAPs in Latin America (Latin NCAP) and in Asia (ASEAN NCAP), where testing will be conducted at the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (MIROS).
In Latin America, the new Latin NCAP, a partnership of the FIA Foundation, Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), International Consumer Research & Testing (ICRT) and Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez , with support from the Inter-American Development Bank, has already published two sets of crash test results, with dramatic results. Global NCAP Chairman Max Mosley explains:
“So far the results show that the Latin American market is dominated by ‘one star’ cars. But we know that car makers can do much better than that. In Europe and elsewhere ‘five star’ cars are now available in all vehicle classes, small, medium and large. We believe that consumer demand will grow for safer vehicles once car buyers are aware of the different levels of safety that can be available. That is what Latin NCAP is now doing for motorists and their families in South America”.
Global NCAP will also be encouraging regional NCAP programmes to promote in-car active safety systems proven to reduce collision and injury risk. For example, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is an active safety system that avoids loss of control skidding incidents. It is widely acknowledged to be the most important safety device since the seat belt. ESC will be mandatory in all new cars in Australia, Europe, and the USA by 2012. It is estimated that it can avoid up to 10,000 deaths annually in the USA and at least 4,000 in the EU. A global standard for ESC was adopted in 2008, and the challenge will be to accelerate its introduction in other car markets.
Every year that passes sees millions of new cars entering the roads. Saving lives and preventing injuries to vehicles occupants in the Decade of Action will depend on how quickly vehicle manufacturers and consumers can be persuaded to build, and buy, five star cars.