The Toyota Etios achieved five stars for adult occupant protection in 2017 crash tests while the Chery QQ3 failed abysmally. Picture: GLOBAL NCAP
The Toyota Etios achieved five stars for adult occupant protection in 2017 crash tests while the Chery QQ3 failed abysmally. Picture: GLOBAL NCAP

The announcement earlier in May of the Safer Choice Africa Award by international vehicle safety organisation Global NCAP is to be welcomed.

SA and Africa have some of the highest road injury and fatality figures in the world with more than 14,000 deaths from more than 800,000 crashes annually. While SA is a signatory to the Decade of Action for Road Safety, which aims to reduce road deaths by half, the figures are not improving.

Recently five people died in a zero-star rated Datsun Go when it was involved in a head-on collision with a Hyundai i10 in the Western Cape, both budget models. The sad loss of life again showed that the standards agencies are not taking safety as seriously as they should.

Global NCAP, along with other organisations such as the UN and Automobile Association (AA), is calling for an end to zero-star cars. Their calls are not to do with business or profits, they are to try to save lives.

There is, of course, the argument that is often put by car companies that make these low safety standard cars that their entry-level car is still safer than being in a minibus taxi or walking, but that argument is not acceptable. Hundreds of people buy a Renault Kwid every month, in spite of its lack of structural safety. There was an outcry when Renault tried to sell this car in Brazil. Consumers demanded more safety and they got it. Renault upgraded the car which then achieved three stars in testing.

Responsibility

Perhaps consumers do not have such a strong voice in SA, perhaps they are not being presented with the facts or perhaps they are just happy to be in a new car. Whatever the reasons, the government has a responsibility to enforce safety on our roads not just through proper law enforcement but also by raising the safety standards for the vehicles that are sold here.

It is not just the government though. We are bombarded with press releases about corporate social responsibility projects by the automotive industry in this country, but road safety is as vital an area of corporate responsibility as building schools or planting trees.

CONSUMERS TOO MUST DEMAND AN END TO ZERO STAR CARS IN THE INTERESTS OF THE SAFETY OF THEMSELVES, THEIR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS.

The Safer Choice Africa Award is a chance for car makers to shout about the level of safety in their vehicles.

In 2017 Global NCAP, together with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the AA of SA, performed their first ever crash tests on five budget vehicles sold in the country.

The Toyota Etios received the highest score for adult occupant safety of four stars and three stars for child protection. Toyota proudly sent out a press release.

Renault’s Sandero achieved three stars for adults and four stars for child protection. The Volkswagen Polo Vivo received three stars in both categories.

Not surprisingly there was silence from the two car companies that performed poorly in the tests. The Datsun Go+ scored just one star for adult protection and two for child protection. However, the only reason it even managed to achieve one star was because the A-pillar was strengthened to accommodate the single driver’s airbag.

The Chery QQ3 fared even worse, failing the test completely with zero stars in all categories. The body structure collapsed completely.

Now look at these results and remember that all cars were tested at the standard 64km/h.

Car makers can step up and do more for vehicle safety and for the safety of their customers. The new award gives them that opportunity.

There are many companies providing the Datsun Go+ for employees to drive, showing a lack of concern for employees safety. Picture: GLOBAL NCAP
There are many companies providing the Datsun Go+ for employees to drive, showing a lack of concern for employees safety. Picture: GLOBAL NCAP

"This award will be a unique opportunity for car manufacturers and importers in Africa to highlight and market their commitment to vehicle safety and road safety on the continent," says Collins Khumalo, CEO of the AA SA.

"It will also allow them to differentiate themselves by making safer cars available to consumers. We are thrilled to partner with Global NCAP on this important award and believe it is a critical step towards achieving our goals of making travel safer on the continent."

David Ward, secretary-general of Global NCAP, who also introduced a similar award in India, says: "Our Safer Choice India Award was elected by manufacturers and consumers alike. Now we would like to encourage the African automobile market to respond to the call for zero star cars to be driven off Africa’s roads and we very much look forward to the first car maker in Africa to achieve the accolade of five-star Safer Choice performance."

WE VERY MUCH LOOK FORWARD TO THE FIRST CAR MAKER IN AFRICA TO ACHIEVE THE ACCOLADE OF FIVE-STAR SAFER CHOICE PERFORMANCE.

So what must a vehicle have in order to qualify for the award? First, it must have a five-star adult occupant protection rating according to the new Global NCAP New Market Test protocol. Second, it must achieve four stars for child protection under the same rating. Third, it must have electronic stability control (ESC) although this can be an option for now provided it can be fitted to all models in a range. It must meet UN regulation UN127 or GTR9 for pedestrian impact protection and all the requirements must be verifiable by a Global NCAP designated laboratory testing facility.

The challenge has been set and manufacturers in SA must respond. Consumers too must demand an end to zero-star cars in the interests of the safety of themselves, their families and their friends, but it also goes further. Companies have a role to play in demonstrating their commitment to the safety of their employees by not buying zero-star or low safety cars.

Lives matter

Personally, I am shocked by how many vehicles with low safety ratings are seen on our roads displaying company logos or livery. Surely employee lives matter — perhaps there is a hashtag there.

We must ensure that we do not tolerate a situation of profit before safety and here it is not just about car makers competing for safety accolades but for consumers finding a voice and government taking a stand.

Recently the EU introduced proposals for its most significant safety enhancements in vehicles for more than 20 years including the requirement of autonomous emergency braking and intelligent speed assistance. SA is falling behind when it comes to safety standards and vehicle technology.

While some authorities are dictating safety standards, others are sadly silent and that is anything but socially responsible.