Johannesburg - There is something very dramatic about footage of crash testing; it depicts, in the most graphic of imagery, what could happen to you if your car is involved in a crash.
Even - no, make that especially - if it’s not your fault.
Which is probably why attitudes among South African drivers toward safety ratings of new cars have changed significantly since the launch in 2017 of #SaferCarsforAfrica, the first independent crash test assessment by Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) and the Automobile Association.
The launch focused on the crash test assessments of five popular compact and small cars - the VW Polo Vivo, Datsun Go+, Toyota Etios, Renault Sandero and Chery QQ3 - which between them accounted for about 65 percent of all new cars sold in South Africa in 2016. The results showed a wide range of performance, from four stars down to zero for adult protection - which translates, in the real world, to a high probability of life- threatening injury in a crash
In a recent survey by the AA of more than 650 prospective new car buyers, almost 75 percent said their choice of what car to buy would be influenced by whether a car had been crash tested, and safety rated. More importantly, four out of five also said they would be influenced by the ratings if they had to choose between two similar cars with different safety ratings.
Despite the the fact that only about one in six knew about the SA-specific crash tests of compact cars, 81 percent of the respondents said their decision to buy would be influenced by different safety ratings. Even more - 83 percent, in fact - said having a safety rating on every vehicle sold in South Africa would help them decide on which vehicle to purchase.
And nine out of 10 said there should be minimum safety equipment standards on all new vehicles sold in South Africa, including anti-locking brakes and airbags which, if fitted as standard to all new cars, would add very little to their retail price - and that new cars should vehicle safety ratings on the showroom floor, making it easier for buyers to compare between models.
The AA’s Layton Beard said: “These results show South African buyers are joining a worldwide trend to choosing safer vehicles, focusing on how the vehicle will hold up in a crash, and how safe their passengers will be, rather than glamour features such as Bluetooth connectivity or upmarket trim.”
Car companies, he said, would do well to recognise the growing trend towards safer vehicles, which the AA predicts will play a gradually more important role in buying decisions in the future. The association is also pushing for government legislation of minimum safety standards for new vehicles.
“Given South Africa’s high road fatality rate,” Beard said, “safer vehicles are no longer an option but a necessity. Prospective new car buyers must do their homework on safety ratings of the cars they’re considering.”
Nevertheless, at IOL we see this against the high incidence of distracted driving and driving without seatbelts (almost universal among passengers in both cars and minibu taxis, as yet another instance of Joe Public wanting the authorities to keep him safe on the roads, without having to make any uncomfortable changes in his lifestyle.
But it will help; safer cars may not reduce the number of collisions on our roads - only safer drivers can do that - but they can reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by those crashes.