Bigger cars, bigger danger

NZ Herald

Friday 16 May 2003

New Zealand's best-selling cars are becoming safer for drivers and
passengers but more dangerous for pedestrians, latest crash test results

The Land Transport Safety Authority says better designs, such as softer
materials for bonnets, are needed.

The findings by the Australian New Car Assessment Program showed that
all the top brands were better for occupants but worse for pedestrians.

The 2003 Holden Commodore VY, 2002 Ford Falcon BA and 2002 Toyota Camry
were given four stars out of five for occupant safety but the Camry and
Falcon received only one star out of four for pedestrian impact. The
Commodore VY received no stars in that category.

The Commodore was New Zealand's top-selling new car model last year. The
Falcon was second and the Camry fifth.

The pedestrian impact study analyses the effect on child and adult
dummies of collisions at 40 km/h. The data are separated into categories
that cover child head impact, adult head impact, upper leg impact and
lower leg impact, then converted into an overall safety rating.

Authority spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the rating results needed to

"The manufacturers have obviously done a lot of work in terms of
protecting people inside the vehicle which is great ... but we'd like to
see those pedestrian ratings improve."

He said smaller cars had received both a high pedestrian and occupant
safety rating and that with a new design, the larger cars could achieve
that too.

Research overseas pointed to using softer materials for bonnets.

Mr Knackstedt said this would improve pedestrian safety but that it
would take a "longer process" for New Zealanders to see those

Toyota spokesman Spencer Morris said the test protocol applied to
pedestrian safety was tougher this time, and manufacturers would respond
to the results.

"We can expect to get improvements flowing through in the future," he

There had been big gains in car safety, especially crash protection for
occupants, and the focus was starting to shift to pedestrians.

"New designs will pay attention to that," said Mr Morris, who is
Toyota's manager of new vehicle operations.

Holden New Zealand spokesman Albert van Ham said he had not seen the
findings but safety was a high priority for most people who bought a

But ultimately it was the driver and how he or she operated a vehicle
that made the biggest contribution to road safety.

European carmaker Saab says it has been looking at such improvements for
the past 18 months.

Paul Ellis, the national public relations manager for Saab Australia,
said pedestrian safety studies were a newish area for car manufacturers.

"We are learning that we have a commitment to think about the safety of

"We have learned and achieved much in occupant safety but it is now time
to make the next step."

These measures include looking at lowering the engine, putting external
airbags on the bonnet, making devices that would reduce the impact on to
the bonnet and windscreen, and using softer materials.

The programme issues its findings three times a year. The next set, for
small cars, is scheduled for August