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Proposed Import Ban On ‘Unsafe’ Used Cars Puts 3 Popular Cars On Chopping Block 12/07/2019
Talks about new rules banning “unsafe” used-import cars have been going around recently. By the look of it, the proposal is bound to take three of the top five best-selling used imports off NZ roads.

According to a report by RNZ, the government is trying to keep cars that have a poor safety rating from entering the local market and is looking into speeding up the removal of unsafe cars from the existing vehicle fleet. These are supposedly units with a one- or two-star safety rating.

Some of the popular cars that will be affected include the pre-2016 Suzuki Swifts, which has a safety rating of one or two stars, as well as the pre-2008 Toyota Corollas and all Mazda Demio models. These are the second, fourth and fifth most popular used imports in the country, respectively.

The ban is one of the key initiatives of the Government’s new 10-year road safety strategy, which will be replacing Safer Journeys in 2020. In fact, it is one of the top five priorities of the Vehicle, Vehicle Standards and Certification Reference Group, one of the advisors to the Government on the new strategy.

Keeping other countries’ rubbish off NZ roads

The proposed import ban drew support as well as some flak.

The Motor Industry Association is among those who push for the ban. According to MIA Chief Executive David Crawford, the country is receiving a high volume of used vehicles that do not meet the modern safety standards of New Zealand-new vehicles.

“We’ve effectively been a disposal bin for other countries’ old bangers for many years now,” Crawford said in an interview with Driven.

On paper, the road the government’s taking is paved with good intentions. Anything that may result in improvement in road safety is a good thing after all. However, many doubt this will achieve much because the fact is that human error affects the road toll more than the safety rating of the car.

Even the Ministry of Transport admits:
 “We know that our unforgiving road infrastructures, speed, alcohol, failing to give way or stop, and distraction continue to be the main contributing factors in fatal and serious injury crashes.”

Despite Safer Journeys, the road death rates in NZ have been on the rise since 2013. There were 327 recorded road deaths in 2016, and 380 in 2017. Currently, the rate is 7.9 per 100,000 population, which is comparably high among other OECD countries.

The MOT says the new road strategy will be broader in scope and will address the shortcomings of Safer Journeys, which is primarily a lack of focus and clear end goals about road safety.

Will banning used-imports make a difference?

Granted, the age and technology standards of a vehicle may contribute to whether or not there is an injury or fatality resulting from a crash, but vehicles have also improved in the safety department in the past years. Most notably, Japanese imports are safer and better quality cars with anti-lock braking system (ABS), power steering and airbags as standard features.

Exactly how a used car is considered ‘unsafe’ is confusing. Here’s why: The import ban threatens to wipe out all models of Mazda Demio; however, the Mazda 2 model has notably scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, Corollas have never went down from either a four- or five-star rating in ANCAP tests since way back to 2006. The popular Suzuki Swifts also scored four stars in 2008 and five stars in 2012.

To be fair, today’s ANCAP testing have become more stringent and tech-focused, so these cars may not be able to replicate the same results now.
Japanese cars also have to meet a unique set of safety specifications than the ANCAP and global NCAP standard. Nevertheless, these popular imports have been getting most Kiwis around quite reliably.

The thing is, the Government references ANCAP ratings for cars that are brand new and up to seven years old. Anything older will be gauged using the Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR). Unlike the NCAP and NCAP which are undertaken in a crash-test lab under controlled conditions, UCSR is based in part on police-reported road crashes.  

How the USCR ratings are calculated was not publicly explained, but the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) says the vehicle’s size, weight, design and safety features are all taken into account.

Using the USCR testing method, the 2011-2016 Swifts scored a single star, although a much older version ironically scored two stars despite it having one less airbag.  One problem with this method is it relies on real-world crashes, no to of which are the same. In other words, local crashes are caused by various circumstances – different drivers, different places, different road conditions, etc. There’s no actual science that proves an older car – not to mention, a five-star safety rated car – is a safety risk.

We don’t know yet whether this new used-import ban will go through. We stand by the argument that educating people about safety rating of various cars is a much better approach to improving road safety than eliminating some presumably less safe cars from the fleet. If these cheaper cars are banned, we are likely to be left with an expensive and an even older fleet.

We say this not because our vehicle rental fleet consists of a handful of Demios, Corollas and Swifts, but because these cars have always been reliable safety-wise. Not to mention, they offer the best fuel efficiency and comes with standard and advanced safety features. All our cars are also regularly tested and maintained, and we see to it that they comply with all applicable NZ standards.

Meanwhile, the Government is yet to consider and review the reference group reports which constitute “the views of a broad section of society.”

James Blond 2017 Ltd

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