Fact sheet: Vehicle safety

Vehicle safety technology is an effective measure to reduce road deaths and serious injuries and holds the potential to eliminate some of the key contributors to road trauma.

Improvements in vehicle safety (primarily crash avoidance and occupant protection measures) have been effective in reducing deaths. These include safety equipment as well as vehicle safety technology.

Older vehicles without newer safety features are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes and provide less protection. Analysis by ANCAP showed vehicles built before 2001 made up 20% of the fleet but featured in 36% of fatal crashes. Newer vehicles built between 2012 and 2017 made up just over 30% of the fleet, yet were involved in only 13% of fatal crashes1.

Australian Design Rules (ADRs)

National Road Safety Strategy priority areas for ADRs:

  • lane keep assist for light vehicles
  • lane departure warning for heavy vehicles
  • fatigue and distraction monitoring/detection systems
  • blind spot information systems for heavy vehicles
  • safe deployment of automated vehicles

ADRs are the national regulatory standards for safety, anti-theft and environmental performance of road vehicles when first supplied to the Australian market. The Commonwealth mandates around 75 ADRs, most of which are aligned with UN Regulations.

The National Road Safety Strategy identifies priority areas for ADR development to progress the uptake of new vehicle safety features and technologies in Australia and result in a safer vehicle fleet.   

Progressing the identified priority ADRs will contribute to a safer vehicle fleet, resulting in new cars sold in Australia meeting new minimum safety standards. For example, more vehicles with lane keep assist should lead to the reduction of run off road and head on crashes, both of which are major contributors to deaths and serious and injuries on regional and remote roads.

The time to introduce new ADRs has decreased substantially in recent years. Since 2011 ADRs have been taking an average of around 1.6 years to be signed into law, compared with 4.5 years under the previous National Road Safety Strategy 2001-2010.

Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP)

ANCAP is complementary to regulation. The ADRs ensure all vehicles meet a minimum regulatory standard. ANCAP ratings encourage vehicle brands to introduce the latest vehicle safety technology as soon as it becomes available.

In addition to mandating vehicle safety technology through ADRs, the ANCAP rating system, through consumer driven choice, encourages vehicle brands to include the latest vehicle safety technology as soon as the technology becomes available or lose competitive advantage to other brands.

  • 95% of new light vehicles sold in 2019 had an ANCAP safety rating and 91% of vehicles sold had the maximum 5-star rating.
  • The value of ANCAP in enhancing the safety of the Australasian vehicle fleet is conservatively estimated at $104.7 million per annum2.

ANCAP also publish Used Car Safety Ratings.

Building on success

The introduction of vehicle safety features, both through mandatory regulation and through consumer led approaches, has delivered significant road safety outcomes in the past.

  • Seatbelts (compulsory wearing required from 1971) and airbags (regulated in Australian Design Rules (ADRs) in the 1990s), together with improvements to the overall crashworthiness of vehicles to protect vehicle occupants resulted in significant reductions in road trauma.
  • Newer technologies like Electronic Stability Control, Motorcycle Antilock Braking Systems (ABS) and improvements to heavy vehicle braking and stability have seen marked improvements. Increasingly, vehicle technology developments that are focused on crash avoidance, such as lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and blind spot detection are widely available in the new vehicle market.
  • Through the National Road Safety Action Plan 2018-2020, ADRs for Autonomous Emergency Breaking for both heavy and light vehicles have been progressed. Mandating this technology in new vehicles will result in improved safety for road users.

Continuing to increase the presence of new vehicle safety technologies will provide significant road safety benefits.

Vehicle safety and Infrastructure planning and investment—connected priorities

Improvements in vehicle safety, particularly through the use of technology, is interconnected with road design.

New vehicle technologies often rely on compatibility with the road network. For example, adding an edgeline marking may historically have had a 5-10% effect on reducing crashes, but is likely to have considerably greater benefit for a vehicle equipped with lane departure or lane keep assist technology.

There are also opportunities to adapt other road design and maintenance processes to take account of emerging technology, with a view to improving safety of existing vehicles on our roads and preparing for a future with highly automated vehicles. Over the longer term, automated vehicles have the potential to substantially improve road safety outcomes by reducing the number of crashes caused by human error.

1 ANCAP ANALYSIS—Fatalities vs. Registered Vehicles (Australia)

2 Economic Connections Report on ANCAP's Role to Reduce Road Trauma (February 2018)