Buying your first car – what’s the safest?
- July 28, 2021
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Road Safety
In the past year (June 2020 – June 2021), there were 217 crashes caused by young drivers (aged 17 – 25 years). This represents 19% of all Australian road deaths, but only 10-15% of the licensed driver population. With statistics as high as these, some say we should be doing everything we can to get them into the newest and safest car possible. However, is this really the case? In this article we discuss whether or not this is true and what the most important things are to consider for our young drivers.
Every time a vehicle manufacturer finds it necessary to include new safety features and vehicle control techniques into modern vehicles, what they’re really telling us how bad we are at driving. For example, take a look at some of the latest safety features in newer cars:
· “Blind spot detection systems” that use a variety of sensors and cameras to provide a driver with information about objects that are outside their range of vision. What’s wrong with educating drivers to do shoulder checks to identify anyone in their blind spot zones?
· Intelligent “Anti-Lock Braking Systems” to help us stop safely and quickly. What about educating drivers to be intelligent and drive to conditions, not tailgate and leave more time and space around them?
· “Traction Control” and “Vehicle Stability Control” systems to help us maintain grip on slippery surfaces or to provide greater control when cornering. What about educating drivers to observe, concentrate and anticipate, and/or drive to the conditions? (When vision, space and grip are compromised, reduce your speed!).
· “Pre-Collision Safety System” to detect an imminent crash and stop us from tailgating. We have a system that now takes precautions for the driver, including warning about an imminent crash as well as applying the brakes? What about educating drivers to “hang back” at a safe following distance, and the dire implications of choosing to tailgate (it’s a choice).
· But wait, there’s more – now there’s a “Lane Departure Alert System”. We now need a system that automatically determines if we are leaving the designated lane by providing two warnings, yes two. An audible and visible warning; again? Can’t we just concentrate on the driving task?
· And to top it off, we need a camera mounted in the front of our vehicles facing forward to detect oncoming vehicles at night that will automatically dip the headlights and then re-engage high beam once the oncoming vehicle has passed.
Do we need any more proof to demonstrate that:
1. we actually aren’t as good at driving as we think, we’re somewhat inattentive and often complacent as drivers. Could it be that these safety features are contributing to dangerous complacency?
2. we really do need to be educated on how to become safer, more aware and attentive drivers?
Is the first car really the problem?
It has been said that one of the great ironies of modern life is that the worst car you will ever drive is probably going to be your first car and that is when you are at the highest risk of having a crash.
But is this really the problem? Is it really essential to have an expensive, modern car with all the “bells and whistles” and “safety features”? Is this the main element to reducing one’s risk of being involved in a serious or fatal road incident?
Or could it actually serve to make the uneducated driver more at risk, through complacency and lack of education on how all those safety features actually work? Should we be giving young drivers the impression that their car is going to do all the safety work for them? (Heaven forbid – these safety warnings malfunction and stop working!) This could all be fraught with grave danger.
According to ANCAP, their 1 to 5 star rating system indicates “the level of safety a vehicle provides for occupants and pedestrians in the event of a crash, as well as its ability – through technology – to avoid a crash.” ANCAP uses crash test dummies (the human-like scientific impact measuring kind, not the 90s rock band) to record data during simulated crashes under various controlled scenarios. In a nutshell, if the crash test dummy suffers ‘injuries’ as a result of the test crash, the severity and nature of these injuries is graded and from this an overall star rating is awarded.
ANCAP Safety Ratings
I think we all know the implications of a crash at increased highway speeds. The best safety strategy a driver can use when driving is to not have the crash in the first place; then it really doesn’t matter whether the car has seven airbags, two or even none. The idea is to ultimately never have the airbags deploy.
Now, that’s all easy to say, but how do we really avoid crashing? Do we make sure to buy a car with a “Pre-Collision Safety System”? Or, can we teach the driver to be in control of their destiny, always? Any crash investigator will tell you that all crashes can be attributed to driver error, so it would seem to be much more beneficial to educate the driver…
“But there’s nothing I can do about all the other drivers on the road”. This is very true for uneducated drivers, but those who have had the advantage of effective, safe, low risk, defensive driver training are all very aware of how to avoid a crash when someone else is at fault. The thing is, after a crash, there’s really no point dwelling on whose fault it was if you’re still a statistic! The result is the same.
So needless to say, all drivers need to enrol in an effective defensive driver training course that uses best-practice curriculum, to achieve a positive change in the attitude to risk acceptance, as advocated by TMR’s Join the Drive (https://streetsmarts.initiatives.qld.gov.au/). If you can make sure the course ticks all these boxes, then attendance, and subsequent adherence, goes a very long way in ensuring your safety and the safety of other road users.
So, by all means, check the ANCAP rating, but while all these safety features are good to have, and are great if you can afford them, there are two things that are absolutely imperative to keeping the driver and the passengers safe in ANY CAR, and the good news is they don’t cost anywhere near as much. See below.
1. Make sure your car has a WTD – very important. What on earth is a WTD? It’s a Well Trained Driver. If all crashes can be attributed to driver error, then it makes sense to train the driver. (Note: it’s got to be the right model of training though – very important).
2. To be safe on road, drivers must appreciate the need to manage grip appropriately and understand that there are only four small contact patches where the tyres meet the road. These patches are no bigger than a hand print so the more tread and grip we have the safer we will be. Tyre pressures are also critical to maintain safety on road. So here are some things to know, remember and HEED about tyres:
- Tyre condition is very important
- Your tread is simply a water pump
- Tyres should be matched on all four wheels
All tyres must have appropriate tread depth (more than 1.5mm in Queensland)
Pressures (what is the correct pressure?) –
- A lot more than you think
- Most people think 28 – 32 PSI (195 to 220kpa)
- More pressure will give you better stopping
- More pressure will give you better fuel economy
- More pressure will give you increased tyre life
BUT don’t ever go above the maximum pressure stamped into the sidewall of the tyre (max load @max pressure)
So what’s the best, safe car for teenagers?
A good first car for teens doesn’t have to be a “top of the range”, 5-star ANCAP rated, expensive car. The important aspects to look for are:
· Roadworthiness (make sure you get a copy of the roadworthy certificate for a private purchase)
· Sound mechanical condition (it’s a good idea to get a full mechanical check by an independent mechanic if you’re buying privately)
· Consider the safety implications of any after-market modifications. Does your teenage son/daughter really need a jacked-up 4×4? Is that the safest option?
· Tyres in good condition (as explained above) and tyres matched on all wheels
· Good fuel economy (teens needs to be able to afford to run it)
· Check that the vehicle you’re considering actually complies with the restrictions imposed on your licence class. Restrictions for P-Platers can be found at https://www.qld.gov.au/transport/licensing/driver-licensing/applying/provisional/restrictions/index.html
· And most importantly, one that has a well-trained driver (WTD) behind the wheel!
If you’re in a fortunate position where you can afford a car with all the safety features, that’s great, but it’s important to remember that those safety features won’t offset bad driving and a dangerous attitude to risk acceptance.
Education is paramount, no matter what car you choose for your first car. To view our upcoming driver courses, click here.