Picture: Globalncap.com

Cape Town - Global NCAP has thrust entry level car safety into the spotlight by crash testing five South African spec budget hatchbacks.

This forms part of a campaign called #SaferCarsforAfrica, which saw the global crash testing authority team up with the Automobile Association of South Africa and the FIA.

The crash tests produced mixed results, with Toyota’s Etios coming out tops with a rating of four stars for adult occupant protection and a three-stars for child protection.

In second place was the Renault Sandero, which got three stars for adult protection and four for child safety, while the locally-built Volkswagen Polo Vivo matched the Renault’s adult protection score, but received just three stars for child safety.

Far less impressive was the Datsun Go+ station wagon, which managed just one star for adult protection and two for child safety and and the result would have no doubt been even more catastrophic had GlobalNCAP tested the entry-level hatch model, which doesn’t even have the driver’s side airbag that the Go+ comes with.

Even more disturbing was the Chery QQ3, which failed to garner a single score in either of the categories.

Let’s take a closer look at how the cars performed:

Toyota Etios - 4 stars

The vehicle’s structure was rated as stable, while it also provided good head and neck protection for adults. Chest protection for the driver was rated as marginal however, and Global NCAP warned that “dangerous” structures below the dashboard could harm the front passenger’s knees. The vehicle is fitted as standard with frontal airbags and seatbelt pretensioners for both front passengers. 

Full crash test report

Renault Sandero - 3 stars

Global NCAP rated the Sandero’s structure as “stable” and capable of withstanding further loads. Head protection for the driver was said to be good, but only adequate in the front passenger’s case, while chest protection for both was also deemed to be adequate. However, as with the Etios, structures beneath the dashboard pose a danger to the front passenger’s knees. 

The Sandero is fitted with dual front airbags but there are no front seatbelt pretensioners.

Full report

Volkswagen Polo Vivo - 3 stars

The Polo Vivo’s bodyshell was deemed stable and capable of handling further loads. Head and neck protection for both the driver and passenger was rated as good, but protection for the passenger’s chest and knees was said to be marginal. 

Dual front airbags are fitted as standard, but there are no seatbelt pretensioners. 

Global NCAP also noted that there is no disabling switch for the passenger airbag and the vehicle is not equipped with ISOFIX anchorages at the back.

Full report

Datsun Go+ - 1 star

Although the Datsun offered good head and neck protection to the front occupants, chest protection for the driver was deemed to be poor and the vehicle’s bodyshell was rated as “unstable” and not capable of withstanding further loads. 

Furthermore, the child seat was unable to prevent excessive forward movement during the impact.

The Datsun is fitted with a driver’s airbag, but none for the passenger and it also lacks front seatbelt pretensioners and rear ISOFIX anchorages.

Full report

Chery QQ3 - 0 stars

Protection offered to the driver’s head and chest was poor, according to Global NCAP, however the vehicle did offer good head protection and marginal chest protection to the front passenger. 

As with the Datsun, the bodyshell was deemed unstable and incapable of withstanding greater loads, while the footwell also ruptured, exposing the driver’s feet to further injuries. 

The Chery QQ3 is not fitted with any key safety features.

Full report

An important step

AA CEO Collins Khumalo commented that the crash tests represent an important step in road safety in South Africa. 

“We believe consumers have a right to know what the safety ratings are on the cars they want to buy. These results are critical to educating the public about vehicle safety, but, more than that, they empower road users to make informed decisions.

“In the same way emissions and green ratings are displayed on vehicles, we think safety ratings should also be displayed on vehicles, and we don’t believe this should be too much of a challenge to make happen.”

Global NCAP’s ultimate goal is reach a position where no cars with a zero star NCAP rating are sold anywhere in the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries and, to do so, it is adopting a two-pronged push-pull approach.

The push involves lobbying governments (especially the South African government which is already a signatory to the 1958 United Nations Convention on Road Traffic and the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020) to make it mandatory to display the NCAP star rating for both adult and child protection on a label on every new car offered for sale.

The pull involves educating the car-buying public about the meaning of the star ratings, so that they will (finances allowing) increasingly move away from buying cars with a zero star rating, thus putting financial pressure on manufacturers to build safer cars.

That’s not as difficult as it sounds. Global NCAP secretary general David Ward mentioned a case in point: the Renault Kwid, which rated zero stars for adult protection and two for child protection when first tested in Delhi in 2015, causing something of a media stir.

A year later an updated version with a driver’s side airbag and seat-belt pretensioner rated one star for adult protection and two for child protection (incidentally, that’s the one we get here in South Africa), and the further revised, made-in-Brazil 2017 version for Latin America scored a respectable three stars.

Ward described this as a success story for Global NCAP, one he is committed to seeing happen in Africa. South Africa, he said, was in an ideal position to drive this campaign, since its government was already committed to the United Nations’ road safety initiative.

Crash test facilities were expensive and the tests themselves were expensive; this, he said, was an opportunity - a South African crash test centre could offer NCAP testing (at a price!) to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, starting with the SADC countries.

These first five crash tests of South African-market cars were done at the ADAC crash test facility in Landsberg, Germany - as are all Latin NCAP tests, since South America lacks a crash test facility.

Global NCAP technical director Alejandro Furas explained why the star rating for child protection differed from that for adults. The crash tests were done with a crash test dummy representing an adult in each front seat, he said, and one dummy representing a three-year-old child and one representing an 18 month-old infant in the rear seats, each secured in a child seat available on the local market and recommended by the manufacturer of that car.

If the car wasn’t provided with ISOFIX child seat mounting points, the child seat would have to be secured using the rear seat belts - with variable results.

But perhaps the most telling comment of all came from racing driver and test fleet manager Deon Joubert, who said that his staff lived a 50 minute walk away from his workshop, at the other end of an unlit road with no pedestrian walkways and a history of muggings and snakebite incidents.

Even a bicycle would be safer, since they would be on the road for half the time. Picking them up from their homes on the back of a bakkie, was safer still, albeit illegal. But that bakkie ride was also safer than an overloaded minibus taxi with not a seatbelt in sight, where the only protection in the event of a crash is the bodies of the other passengers - even a Datsun Go+ would be safer than that.

But we would still rather see the Go+ with government-mandated front airbags and ISOFIX anchorages.