Vehicle buyers often assume that larger vehicles are safer than smaller vehicles. While this tends to be true in crashes between a large vehicle and a small vehicle, size matters less in single vehicle crashes and in crashes between vehicles of similar size and weight. What matter most are the vehicle’s safety features and the safety rating.
Motorists can get safety information from either new or used vehicle safety rating resources. Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) estimates that if every Australian motorist chose the safest vehicle in the same class as their existing vehicle, total safety could be improved by 26% from the current level*.
Safety ratings take into account the safety of a vehicle’s occupants and also the safety of others. Remember that other people may be affected by your choice of vehicle. There are many vehicles on the market that offer a high level of protection to the people inside but are extremely aggressive to pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists and those in other vehicles. The combined Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) indicate how well particular models protect all road users in a crash. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) also provides a separate safety rating for the safety of pedestrians.
We recommend a minimum of 4 stars; it's even better to choose 1 of the many cost-effective vehicles with a 5 star safety rating. We encourage you to buy the safest vehicle you can afford.
A 1 star vehicle compared with a 5 star vehicle in a frontal offset crash test. Image courtesy of the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awards ratings of 1 to 5 stars, based on independent laboratory crash tests. Vehicles without electronic stability control (ESC) and head-protecting side airbags are limited to a maximum of 5 stars. ANCAP states that occupants have twice the chance of being killed or seriously injured in an ANCAP 1 star rated vehicle compared to an ANCAP 5 star rated vehicle.
When reading the ratings, it’s important to check that the exact vehicle you’ve selected has the safety features you need. Note that some manufacturers fit different safety equipment or option packages to different variants within a model.
The Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) project publishes used car safety rating charts based on analysis of vehicle crash data from Australia and New Zealand involving drivers who were killed or seriously injured. Even though UCSR safety ratings are not directly comparable with safety ratings of new cars by ANCAP, on average a vehicle with a higher rating will offer better crash safety than a vehicle with a lower rating.
Note that there are vehicles without electronic stability control (ESC) or head-protecting side airbags which score 5 stars in the UCSR program. UCSR only rates the level of protection provided to people inside and outside the vehicle in the case of a crash, but doesn’t specify which features must be fitted to achieve a 5 star rating. Always aim to purchase a used vehicle which offers both ESC and at least head-protecting side airbags.