Many cars with poor safety ratings, such as the Datsun Go (pictured) and Renault Kwid, sell in high numbers.

Johannesburg - Is it time for all cars sold in South Africa to have compulsory basic safety features like ABS brakes and dual front airbags?

With our country in the grips of a road-safety crisis and more than 14 000 people dying on the roads every year, having such basic life-saving equipment in every vehicle seems all too obvious. Yet to keep costs down in a very price-conscious market, these safety features are absent in a number of budget cars.

This week the AA released its second annual Entry-Level Vehicle Safety Report, and of the 25 vehicles in South Africa priced under R160 000, the report found that only two are categorised as having acceptable safety. Thirteen of the vehicles were categorised as having moderate safety, and ten are classified as having poor safety.

The 25 vehicles surveyed were evaluated against the number of active safety features they have (anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability control), and passive safety features (airbags). Vehicles with an NCAP rating from Europe were awarded points according to the safety rating they achieved. 

The only two cars listed with an acceptable rating were the Toyota Aygo 1.0 and Nissan Micra 1.2 Visia+, both of which are equipped with ABS, as well as front and side airbags (the Visia+ has since been replaced by the Micra Active Visia which has ABS and dual front airbags but no side airbags).

The sub R160 000 vehicles classified as having moderate safety were the Chery QQ3 1.1 TXE, Chevrolet Spark 1.2 Curve, Mitsubishi Mirage 1.2 GL, BAIC D20 hatch 1.3, Chery J2 1.5 TX, Kia Picanto 1.0 Street, Suzuki Swift hatch 1.2 GA, Mahindra KUV100 1.2 G80, Tata Vista 1.4 Ignis, Suzuki Swift DZire sedan 1.2, Honda Brio hatch 1.2 Trend, Tata Bolt hatch 1.2T XMS, and the Suzuki Celerio 1.0 GA. 

These cars are all equipped with ABS brakes and dual front airbags, but no side airbags.

The vehicles in that price range with a poor rating were the Renault Kwid 1.0 Expression, Kia Picanto 1.0 Start, Datsun Go+ 1.2 Lux, Kia Picanto 1.2 Start, Hyundai i10 1.1 Motion, Chery QQ3 0.8 TE (no airbags), Datsun Go 1.2 Mid (no airbags), Tata Indica 1.4 LGi (no airbags), Tata Vista 1.4 Ini Bounce (no airbags), and Tata Manza 1.4 Ini (no airbags). Common to all these vehicles is the absence of ABS brakes, and the presence of only a driver’s airbag or no airbags at all (as indicated).

Many of these cars with poor safety ratings - particularly the Datsun Go and Renault Kwid - sell in high numbers and it’s clear that price plays a more important role than safety to many cash-strapped South African consumers.

The AA says the purpose of its research is to highlight the importance of safety features in new cars, understand how these features can save lives, and encourage new car buyers to consider safety in their decisions, and not only price. We agree wholeheartedly, as it can mean the difference between life and death.

The AA further notes that many of the people who are buying or driving entry-level vehicles are often those with the least driving experience and this makes safety features even more critical.

One might argue that consumers who choose to drive unsafe cars should live with the consequences of their decisions, but that is a callous view which doesn’t take into account the broken families left behind by the loss of loved ones in road accidents.

We understand that such safety features add to the cost of a car, and the idea of having our lawmakers prescribe them as mandatory might be seen as heavy-handed nannying in our very price-sensitive car market. But perhaps an alternative would be for government to incentivise such safety features in cars by giving a financial rebate to car companies who fit them - a saving that would be passed on to customers. 

It’s an option to consider, if the government’s truly concerned about the road safety crisis.

Drive360