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More can be done to improve safety: EuroNCAP

Alarming crash test of 30-year-old car shows how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go

4 Dec 2023

IN AUSTRALIA for the 30th anniversary of ANCAP and to witness a new memorandum of understanding between Euro NCAP and ANCAP, the secretary general of Euro NCAP, Michiel van Ratingen, said there was still work to be done in terms of crash testing in both jurisdictions particularly as safety technology is evolving so quickly.


“Both organisations upgraded crash testing protocols earlier this year for passenger cars, but the program will be expanded to include larger vehicles and more light commercial vans,” he said in a press conference at the MOU signing.


“Ideally, we want to start looking at heavy trucks, but they are a problem because many are custom built to a buyer’s specifications.


“We already assess many one tonne utilities and other light commercials (vans) that are popular in Europe, and we have been sharing our test results with Australia (Australasia). Large US-style pick-ups is a segment we need to examine more closely as at the moment they are not being rated by either Euro NCAP or ANCAP.


“It’s not necessarily the mass of these vehicles that’s causes safety concerns, it’s the ride height which places their main mass directly in line with or above passenger compartments in smaller vehicles.


“Many of the new electric vehicles coming onto the market are as heavy as these large US-style pick-ups but the high ride height is of greater concern.”


When asked specifically about real-world crash tests and technology assessments that may potentially improve crash data, Mr van Ratingen admitted more real-world testing needed to be done as it is critical to determine how a vehicle performs in the broader community with all the variables that involves as opposed to a closed loop or a laboratory test.


“We are looking at ways to improve real world testing but there are some particular problems and logistics that need to be resolved,” he explained.


“Some of the newer driver assist technology has shortcomings in some models and we notify the manufacturers to let them address those issues and hopefully they do. But we can’t force them.


“We have a clear idea of our future direction and will use out combined resources to continue improving crash safety in new vehicles in line with evolving technology.”


ANCAP used its 30th anniversary and the signing of the MOU with Euro NCAP to underline how far safety technology has developed in those 30 years by crash testing a 1993 model car and assessing it using the latest crash protocols.


The sacrificial car, donated by a generous owner, was a 1993 Mitsubishi Magna sedan in mid-spec and good all-round condition for its age. The outcome was not pretty and serves as a warning for owners (or loved ones) still driving cars of this age.


Crash safety in cars has improved exponentially over the past 30 years thanks in part to ANCAP, as back then, the average family sedan was lucky to have inertia reel lap/sash seat belts in the front and possibly anti-lock brakes (ABS).


GoAuto witnessed the test watching from above to see first-hand what would happen to both the car and the two crash test dummies inside, one in the driver’s seat and the other in the rear kerb side seat.


The car, bereft of any of the now mandated standard active and passive safety features, and the dummies, were wired up with numerous measuring instruments and equipped to gather all information needed to rate it under the current ANCAP crash test protocols using the Mobile Progressive Deformable Barrier (MPDB) test otherwise known as the frontal offset test.


The impact was brutal, quite sickening to watch particularly when envisaged with humans inside the vehicle.


Though mostly intact, the extent of damage was exemplified in the buckled roof and the fact that none of the four doors would open. Sharp metal, glass and plastic “shrapnel” from the car sprayed over a wide area and coloured touch points inside showed where the dummies had impacted hard surfaces including the rear dummy’s knees hitting the bottom of the seat in front.


Dummy injury measurements recorded during the live commemorative crash showed the driver of the 1993 Mitsubishi Magna – offering safety features and performance representative of most models available in Australia at that time – would face a high risk of serious or fatal skull fracture and brain injury resulting from hard contact on the steering wheel without the cushion of an airbag.


High injury measurements were also recorded for the driver’s upper and lower legs and pelvis, with moderate injury risk for the chest. The rear passenger would also have sustained serious injuries – slipping beneath the lap portion of the seatbelt with crash forces transferred across the abdomen.


Digging a little deeper into the Magna crash results promotes the argument that cars this vintage shouldn’t be on the road.


The safety features offered in the TR-series Mitsubishi Magna were limited, with basic lap-sash seat belts fitted to the two front and two rear seating positions, and a lap-only seat belt fitted to the centre rear seating position. Airbags and other core passive safety features were not available.


Dummy measurements obtained during the demonstration test indicated a high risk of skull fracture and brain injury for the driver, with hard contact on the steering wheel observed.


Forward movement of the driver dummy’s head recorded an acceleration of 107g which is more than double the acceleration measurements seen in typical modern five-star vehicles – the difference between potentially fatal injury and survivability.


In a modern vehicle, head injury is reduced by the airbag, in conjunction with reduced intrusion of the steering column and advanced seatbelts that control movement of the occupant.


The driver’s chest recorded a moderate risk of injury, though it is likely that that impact between the chest and the steering wheel was limited by the force sustained by the legs – reducing excessive forward movement of the driver dummy.


The chest was the only body region to score points (if using current ANCAP assessment criteria), scoring 1.63 points out of a possible 4.00 points for this body region, however, under current assessment protocols the chest score would be capped to 0.00 due to the high head injury risk, with the overall score for this vehicle limited to 0.00 points out of a total 16.00 points.


High injury measurements were recorded for the driver’s upper and lower legs and pelvis. The femur load on the driver dummy’s left leg was recorded at 9.94kN which is approximately three times greater than the loads seen in current vehicle models.


The Magna sustained a significant amount of “intrusion” in the driver’s foot well, which led to high loading on the driver’s left and right tibias (lower legs). For the rear passenger there was high loading of the chest from the seatbelt. ‘Submarining’ was also observed, with the lap portion of the belt slipping off the pelvis and into the abdomen.


The injuries recorded for the rear passenger would be likely to be substantially lower in a modern vehicle. A seatbelt with pre-tensioner and load limiter would better control the movement of the occupant, while reducing peak loads to the chest. This in combination with improved seatbelt geometry would reduce the risk of submarining.


These results – either in isolation by body region, or in combination – are indicative of a very high risk of serious or fatal injuries.


“We’ve seen vehicle safety advance in leaps and bounds over the past 30 years as a result of ANCAP’s persistence and ability to influence consumer-driven change,” said ANCAP chief executive officer, Carla Hoorweg.


“Our founders were originally met with strong resistance from vehicle manufacturers, yet today, they’re the ones bringing forward new and innovative ways to prevent road crashes.


“Back then, the cars we drove were just regular cars. We didn’t think twice about what safety they offered or didn’t offer. Today, the Australian consumer is well-informed and empowered with the tools to make safer vehicle choices, and the age of your vehicle can make all the difference.”

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