Remember riding unrestrained in the back of a station wagon when you were a kid? Car safety has certainly come a long way since those carefree days. Now there is a plethora of hi-tech systems and gadgets that claim to improve safety. So how do you sort through it all to know what really matters? This easy guide may help. 

What do ANCAP ratings mean?
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is an independent vehicle safety rating system, which has been rating car safety since 1993 using a rigorous crash testing program. ANCAP uses a star rating on a scale of 1 to 5 with a 5 star rating being the highest standard. The simplicity of this rating system makes it easy for consumers to compare cars and make decisions on what to purchase.

The differences between each star rating can be quite dramatic. For example, ANCAP claims that you have twice the chance of being killed or seriously injured in a 3 star ANCAP safety rated car compared to a 5 star rated car.

The ANCAP crash testing protocols are based on highly realistic simulations so that results provide a reliable guide to safety performance. This includes tests to assess the ability to avoid a crash as well as features which limit damage and injury if a crash occurs.

To achieve the maximum 5 star ANCAP safety rating, a vehicle must perform to the highest level across all crash tests and assessments, as well as meet minimum requirements for the inclusion of safety equipment and technologies.

Over 515 vehicle ratings are now held on a searchable, online database to allow consumers to make informed judgements on car purchases. You can explore more here.

ANCAP is a great place to start when assessing safety, although this rating information needs to be supplemented by your own personal observation when looking at a potential car purchase.

Checks you should make in person
When it comes to looking at a particular car you need to make some of your own observations on safety. This starts with considering whether the type of car you are looking at is suitable for your needs and driving experience.

For example, many may make the assumption that a large 4 wheel drive vehicle is naturally safer than a smaller car. While sitting higher off the road and the sheer size may provide some benefits, these vehicles handle differently to smaller cars and may prove more challenging if you are used to driving smaller cars with a lower centre of gravity. Generally speaking, 4 wheel drives are more prone to roll over crashes with causes a high risk of spinal injury.

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Take the oppurtunity to test drive a car to find the perfect match

Another simple observation that may have significant safety consequences is colour. A study conducted by Monash University Accident Research Centre shows that white cars had the lowest crash risk in all types of light conditions (night/overcast/bright sun), while black cars were more likely to be involved in a crash.

When test driving a car you are considering buying it is important to make your own observation about issues such as blind spots caused by window pillars and how comfortable you are with the instruments and visibility. This can be a very personal judgement on how a car suits you, but the importance of such simple observations cannot be overlooked.

How valuable are technological aids?
Technology has come along in leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades and the advancements will continue at pace. But how worthwhile are they?

One development that has caught a lot of attention in recent years is reversing cameras. Once the preserve of larger SUV’s, they are now appearing in smaller cars too. While they do add an extra level of convenience and safety, they will never replace the need for diligent observation by the driver – particularly with children around. The simple practice of the driver knowing where all children are before moving a vehicle will always be a mandatory that reversing cameras will not replace.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is now a compulsory inclusion in new cars, which indicates its benefit in improving safety. ESC automatically monitors the position of the car and applies the brakes and reduces power to help prevent the vehicle from sliding and a driver from losing control.

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is another recent development which uses technology to sense a possible collision at lower speeds with the car in front of you and will automatically apply the brakes.

A more commonly available system in many cars these days is an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). This feature provides valuable assistance in situations where the brakes are applied heavily to avoid a collision. Without this system the wheels could lock up and cause the car to skid, thereby losing control. ABS senses the heavy braking and will pulse the brake to avoid a lock up and helps the driver maintain the ability to steer the car around an obstacle.

AEB technology allows the car to automatically brake. Watch this demonstration

Fatigue detection is now also being developed and introduced to sense driver attention and detect drowsiness and alert the driver to take a break. While this is a valuable aid, it should only be seen as a supplement to good driving practice of taking regular breaks on longer journeys, before fatigue becomes a problem.

Adaptive Cruise Control is also becoming more popular in new cars and uses radar technology to monitor the position of the car in front of you while you are using cruise controls and will adjust speed to help maintain a safe distance in between.

Safety will always start with sensible driving
While nothing will ever replace the need for responsible driving to maintain safety, these hi-tech aids are valuable supplements that are already preventing many accidents or reducing the severity of accidents, so they are worth seeking out if you want that extra margin of protection.

What safety tips and driving practices do you recommend? Share your thoughts below.