How safe is your child strapped into a car seat in the back?
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How safe is your child strapped into a car seat in the back?

If you don’t know your ESC from your ABS, you could be part of the reason why most of the non-premium cars sold in South Africa don’t have some basic, lifesaving safety features which have been legally compulsory for about six years.

Two men reporting a car crash for insurance claim
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Given that consumer awareness of and demand for vehicle safety features has been the driving force behind the upping of safety standards in many countries, should we be surprised that of the 12 South African cars which the Global New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) has crash tested in a facility outside Munich in three batches since 2017, only one - the Toyota Yaris - has electronic stability control (ESC) as a standard feature?

ESC is anti-skid technology which is credited with saving as many lives as the seatbelt by preventing cars from skidding or enabling them to recover from skids.

By the way, Global NCAP takes a very dim view of manufacturers offering a lifesaving feature as an optional extra - they don’t count cars which don’t have ESC in the base model. If it’s only in the top-of-the-range model or you have to pay for it as an “optional extra”, they don’t take the feature into consideration in a car’s safety rating.

The big news out of the last round of local car crash tests which Global NCAP did in conjunction with our Automobile Association was that the Nissan NP300 bakkie, the so-called Hardbody, was found to be not so tough after all, scoring a shocking zero safety rating for adult passengers up front. What cars were tested in this latest round and how did they do?

This year, the results weren’t quite that dramatic, but the most worrying thing to emerge from the crash test data on Toyota’s budget 7-seater Avanza, Suzuki’s funky hatchback, the Ignis, and Honda’s conservative sedan Amaze, was poor protection for the children strapped into car seats in the back.

The Ignis and the Amaze scored just one star for child safety, while the Avanza was awarded two stars for child safety.

In the case the Amaze, the armrest opened in the test and broke the handle of one of the child seats, causing it to rotate excessively, exposing the 18-month child dummy’s head.

And the bench seat to which the three-year-old child dummy’s seat was fitted in the Avanza detached from its anchorages during the crash, flinging the child’s head forward.

The three base-model vehicles - bought locally and transported to a facility outside Munich, Germany - were fitted with crash test dummies and propelled one by one into a barrier, simulating a vehicle of similar size and weight, at a fairly low speed of 64km/hr.

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The “adults” fared slightly better in the crash tests, earning the Avanza and the Amaze four stars for adult safety, while the Ignis got a three-star adult rating.

David Ward, London-based president and CEO of Global NCAP, who was at Kyalami yesterday for the revelation of results of this third round of SA car crash tests, said while the organisation welcomed the four-star results, "we are disappointed in the levels of protection provided for child occupants, the most vulnerable of car passengers”.

Alarmingly, both the body shell and the footwell area of the Avanza were rated as being unstable, meaning the vehicle would be unable to withstand a similar impact at higher loading or speed.

The Ignis’s body shell was also rated as unstable, but footwell area was stable. But both the Amaze’s body shell and footwell were rated as stable.

Sikkie Kajee, Chairman of AA South Africa, said while there are minimum safety standards  - very minimum - for vehicles sold in South Africa, that’s not good enough. 

“We want to encourage consumers to be more critical of safety features on vehicles before purchasing, and to be more mindful of their own, and their passengers’ safety," he said.

It’s a classic case of “you don’t ask, you don’t get”.

If we are more interested in whether a car has a reverse camera, a cool sound system and flash rims, than what hidden safety features it has, the manufacturers won’t see fit to give us the latest greatest safety technology. They’d rather dazzle us with those touchy-feely, show-off features.

For example, the Ignis and Amaze only have lap belts in the middle seat at the back, making it impossible to properly install a child seat there, and a lap belt provides a lot less protection than a three-point belt. 

Global NCAP’s aims are threefold. “To stop the sale of zero-star cars in Africa; to ensure that consumers can be sure that the vehicles they purchase at least meet minimum UN standards — including electronic stability control (ESC) - and to contribute to at least halving road deaths and serious injuries in Africa by 2030.

“Very soon there will not be a significant market which is not applying these standards - we would love to see SA playing a huge leadership role in Africa around vehicle regulations," said Global NCAP President David Ward.

And the most effective way to make that happen is for consumers to demand it. That’s exactly what happened in India, which has just been awarded five stars for a Tata SUV after a history of woefully low rated cars.

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The Nissan NP300 bakkie, which was given a zero safety rating for front seat passengers after this crash test last year:

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In case you missed any of the past Consumerwatch shows, find them below:

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