With car accidents resulting in 1,209 road deaths nationwide in the past year , and many more serious injuries, one key to a clever car purchase is knowing how safe it is.
Need another reason to consider car safety? Insurers typically take the safety rating of a driver’s vehicle into account when calculating their premium, so, along with a variety of other factors we’ll look at below, it could end up impacting how much you pay for insurance.
Here are some tips on how to research Australia’s safest cars.
What makes a car safe?
While it’s not necessarily true in all cases, a general rule of thumb is that the newer a car is, the safer it is.
Why? As motoring evolves, manufacturers are becoming ever smarter at incorporating safety features into vehicles of all sizes. These can come in two forms – active and passive – and in general, the more of each a car has, the safer it is.
Active features are designed to stop an accident from happening. They include:
- Auto emergency braking: senses an imminent crash and automatically applies the brakes if you don’t respond
- Lane keeping assist: helps you keep in between lines by intervening when necessary to manipulate your car’s steering
- Rear cross detection: a sensor that picks up movement within a field, sounding an alarm (audio or audio plus visual) if an object is detected
- Rear bumper sensor: alerts you if it senses obstacles nearby while you’re parking
Passive features are those that only operate during an accident. They include:
- Airbags: deploy when a major impact is made with another object
- Seat belts: secure the car’s occupants in their seat, helping them avoid whiplash
- Crumple zone: a part of the vehicle’s structure designed to crumple in an accident, absorbing much of the impact
Fast fact: Did you know many modern cars are designed so that if there’s a major impact to the front of the vehicle, the car’s engine dislodges and slips underneath the car? This is designed to prevent the engine from breaking through to the interior and injuring the driver and any passengers.
What are Australia’s safest cars?
Significant effort goes into assessing the safety of on-market vehicles.
In Australia, two important information sources are ANCAP (the Australasian New Car Assessment Program), which covers new cars, and the UCSR (Used Car Safety Ratings) system, which covers used cars.
Safest new cars in Australia
At the time of writing, ANCAP ranked these as the five safest car models in Australia:
- Audi A1, November 2019 onwards (all variants)
- Toyota Granvia, October 2019 onwards (all variants)
- Audi Q3, October 2019 onwards (all variants except RS Q3 and Sportback)
- Ssangyong Korando, October 2019 onwards (all variants)
- BMW 3 Series, March 2019 onwards (2.0L variants)
5 stars for the new @audiaustralia #A1 – the first light car to achieve the top rating against ANCAP’s most stringent test criteria. Read the full report at https://t.co/ohmyugvnyW pic.twitter.com/d0nd6VjTqF
— ANCAP Safety Ratings (@ANCAPsafety) October 31, 2019
ANCAP publishes safety ratings for new cars based on “the level of safety they provide in the event of a crash and their ability to avoid or minimise the effects of a crash”. Vehicles receive a 0–5-star safety rating based on their performance across these test areas:
- Adult occupant protection
- Child occupant protection
- Vulnerable road user protection (i.e. vehicles that score highly here are seen to be designed in a way that causes less injury to a pedestrian in an accident)
- Safety assist (i.e. active and passive safety features)
Ultimately, ANCAP recommends “the safest vehicle you can afford with 5 stars and the latest rating year.” Why? ANCAP says as time passes its rating criteria become ever more stringent.
Today, more new cars than ever have a 5-star safety rating, so it’s important to recognise the test year and different testing scores that a car receives as well as its star rating.
Thoughts on safety draw into question driverless cars. Removing human error and increasing a car’s ability to react quickly will increase safety, at least in theory. However, autonomous vehicles can’t recognise how some fellow road users might react. A recent pedestrian fatality highlighted that the driverless car involved wasn’t programmed to know people might jaywalk.
Safest used cars in Australia
The UCSR scheme, which is overseen by the Vehicle Safety Research Group, provides used car safety ratings based on data from real-world crashes investigated by the Monash University Accident Research Centre.
The ratings system “covers both the role of the vehicle in determining injury outcomes (secondary safety) and the contribution of vehicle design and specification to crash risk (primary safety).”
The resulting 2019 Used Car Safety Ratings Buyer’s Guide doesn’t have overall rankings – instead, it rates cars within their vehicle type. The vehicles with an ‘Excellent’ driver protection ranking plus a ‘Safer Pick’ notation in each category are:
Safest used small cars
- Audi A3 04-13
- Mazda 3/Axela 13-17
- Nissan Pulsar B17 Sedan 12-17
- Toyota Prius 3 09-16
Safest used medium sars
- Audi A4/S4/RS4/AllRoad 08-15
- Mazda 6/Atenza 12-17
- Peugeot 407 04-11
Safest used large cars
- Mercedes Benz E-Class W212/C207/A207 09-16
Safest used compact SUVs
- Jeep Compass 07-17
Safest used medium SUVs
- Audi Q5/SQ5 09-16
- Honda CR-V 12-17
- Mazda CX-5 12-17
- Mitsubishi/Peugeot Outlander/4007 06-12
- Subaru Forester 12-17
- Subaru Tribeca 06-14
Safest used large SUVs
- Audi Q7 06-14
- BMW X5 01-06
- BMW X5 07-13
- Mercedes Benz ML-Class W163 98-05
- Mercedes Benz ML/GL -Class W164/X164 05-11
- Mitsubishi Pajero 07-17
- Nissan Patrol 12-17
No cars in the ‘People Movers’, ‘Light Cars’, ‘Commercial Vehicles – Vans’ or ‘Commercial Vehicles – Utes’ categories secured the coveted ‘Safer Pick’ status, however several did achieve the ‘Excellent’ driver protection ranking.
Yesterday I visited the NSW Govt’s Crash Lab & launched the 2019-20 Used Car Safety Ratings Buyer’s Guide. With almost 70 five star rated cars, you’ll be able to find one that catches your eye and fits your budget.#RoadSafety pic.twitter.com/UiV4rFEyF0
— Paul Toole MP (@PaulTooleMP) September 5, 2019
How do safety ratings affect car insurance premiums?
How your car rates for safety can have a significant influence on how your car insurance premium is calculated, but it’s not a golden ticket. Insurance companies generally follow a multi-layered process to determine policy pricing.
There are many variables that may be involved. For example, there are 44,000 possible answer combinations to the questions PD Insurance asks motorists. Our software ‘rater’ analyses the answers as they’re entered, then calculates the premium according to the expected safety of the driver and vehicle.
Bear in mind that different insurers may ask different questions, or rate answers differently. For instance, some may heavily weight the car’s overnight parking location while others focus more on other factors.
Aspects that may or may not be taken into account include:
- Vehicle type (i.e. year, brand/make, model, series and so on) and how likely it is to be involved in accidents, according to research data
- The geographic location where the car will be based and/or garaged (e.g. some insurers reduce premiums for motorists who live and park their car in a relatively safe neighbourhood
- The driver’s age, gender and other personal circumstances (such as their driving history, claims history and whether they’re the only driver)
- How the vehicle will be used (e.g. business or personal, whether it will be driven in high-traffic periods)
- If the car has any pre-existing damage
- If the car has any modifications or accessories
- Kilometres travelled per year
- Whether you pay the premium upfront or by regular auto-payment (i.e. a number of insurers offer discounts to customers who pay their annual premiums in full).
What optional safety features could reduce my car insurance premium?
Some insurers may allow premium discounts for cars with additional safety features, but many don’t.
Theft mitigation strategies such as self-arming immobilisers and steering wheel, pedal or tyre locks won’t necessarily translate to lower premiums. But, they may provide you with extra peace of mind either way.
Before you add any safety features to your car, it could be worth checking the impact with your insurer. Think about the potential financial benefits of doing so – will it add value or save you money in some way? – as well as the safety benefit it may offer.
You should also be aware that post-manufacturing modifications may actually increase your premium. Why? Some high-tech add-ons, such as throttle controllers and autonomous braking, can be pricey to repair if damaged in an accident, leading to a higher premium.
So, what makes a safe car? Everything from how it’s designed and manufactured to the way you drive, service and maintain it can influence how safe it is to drive. The onus is on the driver (and your mechanic) as well as the manufacturer.
What makes for a lower insurance premium? Exploring all the factors that influence the premium calculation process can be a good place to start. An open conversation with each insurer you’re considering will often assist greatly as well.
Main image source: BELL KA PANG (Shutterstock)
About Kristy Sheppard
Kristy Sheppard is the Content Manager at PD Insurance where she is surrounded by passionate motoring enthusiasts and insurance experts. Kristy has over 20 years’ experience in coordinating the communications efforts of companies across Australia and beyond. In that time, she has covered sectors including financial services, education, technology and property. A self-confessed personal finance nerd, Kristy relishes making complicated subjects simple so people can confidently make informed decisions. Outside work she enjoys the active lifestyle offered by coastal living and being the ‘mother of dragons’ to young triplet boys.