CRASH testers have called for ‘curtain’ airbags that inflate down the side windows to be fitted to all cars and four-wheel-drives after research showed they can cut fatalities by up to 45 per cent.
In Victoria alone, 35 per cent of all road fatalities are due to side impacts when vehicles hit trees or telegraph poles — a figure that has remained constant over the past seven years, according to the RACV.
Latest tests by motoring bodies show curtain airbags give life-saving protection as they inflate in milliseconds in a side impact with a pole or another vehicle, protecting occupants’ heads from injury.
Future crash ratings will include the pole test with the most popular Australian sports utility vehicles next to come under scrutiny by Australia’s New Car Assessment Program.
Real-world crash analysis by the Monash University Accident Research Centre in Victoria shows that 4WDs have a higher rate of side impacts into poles and trees, compared with other vehicles.
Only a few local or imported vehicles, including 4WDs, have side curtain airbags available, while those that do have them only on premium models, often as optional equipment.
In calling for the safety device, the RACV’s chief engineer, Michael Case, announced yesterday that side impact pole testing would become a major part of ANCAP, a consortium of motoring organisations and government agencies. Although similar to testing in Europe and North America, the local test would be specific to Australia and, Mr Case said, be conducted at a speed of 29km/h.
Mr Case commended those car-makers that offered side airbags, which protected the chest and abdomen, but he said curtain airbags would provide added protection in side-on collisions involving trees, poles or other high-fronted vehicles such as 4WDs.
‘The message is clear. Curtain airbags will save lives and reduce injuries, and should be adopted by manufacturers as quickly as possible,’ he said.
‘If they can’t cost them in as standard equipment, then make them available as an option. Let the consumer choose.’
ANCAP currently tests vehicles in frontal collisions and side impacts with other vehicles in a world-recognised five-star crash rating system.
The RACV, along with VicRoads, TAC and the NRMA are currently testing six popular large four-wheel drives in the first side-impact pole tests done here. The findings will be published in April.
Although ANCAP will not reveal which 4WDs are being tested, it showcased the new program yesterday using a new Toyota Prado 4WD, fitted with curtain airbags, which had been crashed into a pole at 29km/h. The Prado has curtain airbags as standard on its luxury model.
Without the safety device, the driver and rear seat occupant could have been severely injured or killed, Mr Case said.”