Buying your first car, Part 2

Deciding on your first car based on safety features is fraught with danger. We explain why driver education is far more important than the type of car you choose.

Thursday, 23 November, 2017 by Roadcraft

According to ANCAP, their 1 to 5 star rating system indicates "the level of safety a vehicle provides for occupants and pedestrians in the event of a crash, as well as its ability - through technology - to avoid a crash." ANCAP uses crash test dummies (the human-like scientific impact measuring kind, not the 90s rock band) to record data during simulated crashes under various controlled scenarios. In a nutshell, if the crash test dummy suffers ‘injuries’ as a result of the test crash, the severity and nature of these injuries is graded and from this an overall star rating is awarded.

We must remember that ANCAP testing is done at a maximum speed of 64km/hr (crash testing explained). The implications of a crash at increased highway speeds are quite different. The best safety strategy one driver can use when driving is NOT have the crash in the first place; then it really doesn't matter whether the car has seven airbags, two or even none. The idea is to NEVER have the air bags deploy.

Avoiding crashing is the best strategy

Easy to say, but how do we really avoid crashing? Do we need to make sure we buy a car with a "Pre-Collision Safety System"? Or, can we teach the driver to be in control of their destiny, always? Any crash investigator will tell you that all crashes can be attributed to driver error, so wouldn’t it be more beneficial to educate the driver?

So now I hear you saying, “But there’s nothing you can do about all the other idiots on the road”. This is true for uneducated drivers, but those who have had the advantage of effective, safe, low risk, defensive driver training, it is possible to be aware of how to avoid a crash when someone else is at fault. To make our roads safer for all road users, all drivers need to enrol in an effective defensive driver training course that uses best practice curriculum to achieve a positive change in the attitude to risk acceptance, as advocated by TMR’s Join the Drive campaign. If you can make sure the driver training course ticks all these boxes, then attendance, and subsequent adherence, goes a very long way in ensuring your safety and the safety of other road users.

So, by all means check the ANCAP rating, but while all these safety features are good to have, and they’re fine if you can afford them, there are two things that are absolutely imperative to keeping the driver and the passengers safe in ANY CAR, and the good news is they don’t cost anywhere near as much. The first is to make sure your car has a WTD – VERY important. What in earth is a WTD? It’s a Well Trained Driver. If all crashes can be attributed to driver error, then it makes sense to train the driver (it must be the right model of training though).

To be safe on the road, drivers must appreciate the need to manage grip appropriately and understand that there are only four small contact patches where the tyres meet the road. These patches are no bigger than a hand print, so the more tread and grip we have the safer we will be. Tyre pressures are also critical to maintain grip on road. So here are some things to know, remember and heed about tyres:

  • Tyre condition is one of the most important safety factors
  • Tyres should be matched on all four wheels
  • All tyres must have appropriate tread depth (more than 1.5mm in Queensland by law)
  • Tyre pressure - the correct pressure is higher than most people think; 28 – 32 PSI (195 to 220kpa). More pressure will give you better stopping, better fuel economy and increased tyre life, BUT don’t ever go above the maximum pressure stamped into the sidewall of the tyre (stated as maximum load at maximum pressure).

So what’s the best, safe car for teenagers?

A good first car for teens need not be a 'top of the range', 5-star ANCAP rated, expensive car. The important aspects to look for are:

  • Roadworthiness: make sure you get a copy of the roadworthy certificate, or safety certificate, for a private purchase.
  • Sound mechanical condition: it’s a good idea to get a full mechanical check by an independent mechanic if you’re buying privately.
  • Consider the safety implications of any after-market modifications: does your teenage son really need a 'jacked-up' 4x4? Is that the safest option?
  • Tyres in good condition: as explained above.
  • Good fuel economy: teens and young adults need to be able to afford to run the vehicle.
  • Compliance with licence restrictions: check that the vehicle you’re considering actually complies with the restrictions imposed on your licence class.

If you’re in a fortunate position where you can afford a car with all the safety features, that’s great, but it’s important to remember that those safety features will NOT offset bad driving and a dangerous attitude to risk acceptance!

Education is paramount, no matter what car you choose for your first car.

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