Jenny Keefe reviews the best-rated cars on the market for safety, and also uncovers a few shortcomings in safety tests
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Corporate manslaughter is leading fleet safety.
The Euro New Car Assessment programme (NCAP) crash tests has become a strong benchmark of safety excellence.
However, the NCAP scheme has its flaws, for example, it only measures how well cars protect occupants once disaster has struck.
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As new corporate manslaughter laws bring driver safety to the forefront, fleet managers are increasingly looking at how they can get less bang for their buck.
The Euro New Car Assessment programme (NCAP) crash tests are currently the most definitive way of measuring vehicle safety. And Adrian Hobbs, NCAP’s secretary general, confirms that more employers are adding safety to their fleet shopping list. "I know of at least two employers that will only buy cars that score highly on the tests. People need to know that this sort of information is available and where they can get it. Then they should use the data alongside all the other information, such as price, when buying a car."
Pinning down the top five safe cars is rather like trying to nail jellyfish to the wall: it depends on whether you are after passenger, child or pedestrian protection (bumper and bonnet design). However, Steve Jones, pricing manager at Lex Vehicle Leasing, offers some tips: "The Renault Modus is the safest small car on the market for occupant safety." The Modus made crash test history when it became the first supermini to achieve NCAP’s coveted five-star safety rating. As well as two airbags in the front and one in each of the front doors, it has electronic brake control to help prevent skids.
For those in the market for a medium-sized motor, Jones says: "The new Volkswagen Golf has proven to be the safest medium-sized car in crash tests and is also the leader in pedestrian safety." Volkswagen has designed added side impact protection and clever seatbelt reminders. And it’s not just passengers that can rest easy because the car also offers above average protection for pedestrians.
Next up is the Volvo S40. "It shows that Volvo is still one of the safest brands to drive if you are a company car driver," says Jones. The model features dual front and side airbags, stability control and cutting-edge seat belt design.
The Peugeot 407, meanwhile, manages to combine safety and sexiness, says Jones. "It’s probably the safest car Peugeot sells and is very stylish and rewarding to drive." It includes airbags galore, at the front and side, a knee airbag for the driver, and an advanced braking system (ABS).
For executives, Jones recommends the Audi A6. The car ticks all the usual safety boxes, with airbags and ABS braking. However, NCAP judges note that "pedestrian protection was extremely poor". "All models in this sector perform poorly in the area of pedestrian safety," says Jones.
But the NCAP scheme has its critics. Kevin Delaney, traffic and road safety manager for the RAC Foundation, says that braking systems and stability controls should form part of the tests: "NCAP only measure how well the cars protect their occupants once [crashed], they don’t actually measure how well the cars would help the driver to avoid a crash."
His other gripe with the programme is that under the lab-staged conditions, the same models are crashed into each other (for example, a Golf is smashed into another Golf) – something that rarely happens in real life. "The Renault Modus is supposed to be the safest car on the market. But if you crash a Renault Modus into a 20-year-old Mercedes, the chances are that if you are in the Modus, you will leave that car in a zip-up bag."