ANCAP ‘falling behind’ on safety

Founder says Australian body is no longer a world leader

TWO people instrumental in setting up ANCAP in the 1990s have criticised Australia’s crash test authority as becoming less relevant to car buyers and less nimble in its ability to adapt to new technologies and trends.

Road safety consultant Michael Griffiths told Wheels the taxpayer-funded organisation had lost its innovative approach and was now behind other crash testing authorities.

“It’s a shame that a program that was world leading is now world lagging,” Griffiths said, pointing to the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a leader in occupant protection. “ANCAP should be taking the same innovative route as IIHS rather than being tied to a program that has the limitation of a committee needing to represent all of Europe’s interests.”

Griffiths highlighted new test procedures used by IIHS – including the punishing small-overlap test introduced in 2012 and the side-impact sled test developed in 2003 – as better simulations of side impact from a higher-riding SUV. “This is the kind of initiative ANCAP should be taking.”

According to ANCAP’s annual report for 2013/2014, of $3.5 million in income (comprising $1.1 million in government grants, $2 million in subscriptions revenue and other income) less than half – just $1.6 million – was spent on the “cost of test program”.

The report shows more than $400,000 was spent on “communications and marketing”, including $96,170 on travel, as well as advertising, events and website costs.

The books closed with a $250,000 surplus.

ANCAP CEO Nicholas Clarke defended the organisation’s spending.

“That’s nonsense; we’re spending more on tests than we ever have. The funds that we get in through our members is only a fraction of what we spend on crash tests.

“You’re forgetting we’re a not-for-profit [organisation]. We make money through all sorts of channels in kind and in cash. We get … probably $4.5 million on average in ratings from Euro NCAP for free. We get manufacturers assisting with the donation of tests and cars.

These are not things that hit the balance sheet.”

Dr Tom Gibson – a visiting professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, and a director of Human Impact Engineering, a consultancy company that deals with the biomechanics of impact injury – also believes ANCAP is losing relevance.

Gibson, who was involved with Griffiths in establishing ANCAP, agrees the testing procedure needs to focus more on occupant protection and developing more difficult and relevant tests.

“The critical issue at present is the compatibility of vehicles,” said Gibson. “When a light vehicle hits a heavy vehicle … the little vehicle isn’t going to do well, no matter what ANCAP says.”

ANCAP touches on the incompatibility of large and small vehicles in its website’s FAQ section: “It is not appropriate to compare ANCAP safety ratings across vehicle categories, particularly if there is a large weight difference.”

However, Wheels believes the simplified ‘five-star only’ message overlooks these potential dangers. And ANCAP has done little to evaluate vehicle mass differences, increasingly important in a country where one in three new cars is an SUV.

Gibson also questions whether Australia has the money or resources to justify its own NCAP testing. It’s a topic of contention as local manufacturing approaches its 2017 end-date.

“There was more reason [to have a local NCAP] when we had more unique models,” Gibson said.

“It seems to me Australia could get better bang for their bucks if they did things differently.”

“It’s a shame that a program that was world leading is now world lagging” ANCAP founder Michael Griffiths