21 Nov 2011
Global NCAP chairman Max Mosley on the next wave of advances in car safety

Consumer information has been a powerful driver of improved automobile safety over the last thirty years. Crash tests carried out by New Car Assessment Programmes have created a market for safety in which car buyers can choose much safer vehicles. This has given manufacturers the incentive to compete for sales by offering models with good protection in a crash.

As the global vehicle fleet is set to double in the next ten years, we need to help consumers around the world make informed choices when they buy new cars. Automobile use in emerging markets like Brazil, China, India and elsewhere is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Yet it is precisely in these countries where we face a growing death toll on the road. So Global NCAP will help to develop new programmes in the rapidly motorising regions and provide a global platform for co-operation among NCAP’s worldwide.

What safety technologies make a difference?

Airbags are a good example of a technology which reduces the risk of death and serious injury in a car crash. To perform well in crash tests manufacturers must fit air bags that provide a safety cushion for car occupants. Consumers need to understand that choosing to buy a car with airbags could literally be a life and death decision for them and their family if they are involved in a crash. Crumple zones are another important feature. Car makers create a ‘survival cell’ within the body shell that directs crash energy away from the vulnerable occupants. The star rating of NCAP programmes show how well different car models protect in this way. Another important safety device is Electronic Stability Control (ESC) which will be mandatory in all new cars across most of the industrialised countries in 2012. It is an anti-skid technology that experts believe is the most important safety system since the seat belt.

What are Global NCAP’s priorities at the moment?

We are helping launch new NCAPs in regions of the world experiencing rapid growth in motor vehicle use. In South America, for example, where the most popular cars sold today are still about twenty years behind the levels of safety enjoyed in Europe and North America, we are supporting Latin NCAP. So far the results show that the Latin American market is dominated by ‘one star’ cars. But we know that car makers can do much better than that. In Europe and elsewhere ‘five star’ cars are now available in all vehicle classes, small, medium and large. We believe that consumer demand will grow for safer vehicles once car buyers are aware of the different levels of safety that can be available. That is what Latin NCAP is now doing for motorists and their families in South America.

What about global vehicle safety standards?

There are important vehicle safety regulations developed by the United Nations but they are not applied to all new cars sold across the world today. The UN brings together governments to draft safety and emission standards but unfortunately not all countries apply them. That is why Global NCAP wants to encourage governments to adopt the most important UN motor vehicle safety regulations, such as the regulations for front and side impact crash protection. In 2011 the UN has declared a Decade of Action for Global Road Safety with the goal to cut by 50% the level of road deaths forecast in 2020. To achieve this ambitious goal we believe that all new cars must pass these basic crash test standards and also be equipped with ESC.

How many lives can be saved by safer cars?

The experience in Europe and North America over the last few decades is that vehicle safety improvements have played a major role in reducing the level of death on our roads. Across the European Union in the last ten years it has been estimated that 100,000 lives have been saved by better road safety policies. Of course, not all of this improvement is from vehicle safety but it is has certainly made a significant contribution. For example in the UK the driver of a car involved in a crash registered in 2004-2007 is 30% less likely to be killed than one registered in 1988-1991. This is because crash test legislation introduced across the European Union in 1998 and consumer programmes like Euro NCAP have transformed the level of car safety. Experts believe that safer vehicles have been the single most important factor in halving the UK’s level of road deaths. Of course, in emerging economies the composition of the vehicle fleet is different. Nevertheless, given the dramatic increase in car use around the world, it is inevitable that consumers will insist on their right to be able to choose safer products. In the long run this demand for safety, combined with global standards, will help to reduce death and injury on the world’s roads.

What other NCAPs exist?

At the moment there are eight NCAPs or similar bodies operating around the world. Our website provides links to them all. Some are run by governments whilst others combine public and civil society membership. They all carry out crash tests of new models designed to help car buyers understand the level of safety on offer. The most commonly used tests are for frontal and side impact. The frontal impact tests are usually carried out at 64kph which is 8 kph higher than the UN regulation requirement. This is to be able to demonstrate the difference between models and also reflects more accurately the speed at which most fatalities occur.

Who is supporting Global NCAP?

Global NCAP is a charity registered in the UK. I have the honour to be the Chairman of its Board of Trustees which brings together a group of individuals with great experience of vehicle safety and the work of consumer crash test programmes. We are grateful for grant support for our work provided by the FIA Foundation which is a philanthropic body established in 2001 to promote road safety and sustainable mobility. We are, of course, entirely, independent of the automobile industry. We appreciate the level of investment the industry makes in developing safer vehicles, but our role is to provide an independent source of information to consumers so that they can make better informed choices when they consider buying a new car.