Raising the safety bar for cars

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A crash test.A crash test.A crash test.

During a five-minute job interview at the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) in 2008, Khairil Abu Kassim promised the then director-general, the late Prof Dr Radin Umar Sohadi, that in just three years, he would set up the Malaysian Vehicle Assessment Programme (MyVAP).

MyVAP, which was meant to improve the state of vehicle safety in Malaysia, later paved the way for the establishment of the Asean New Car Assessment Programme (Asean NCAP), the youngest in the Global NCAP family.

“We initially developed MyVAP and concurrently tried to understand the fundamentals of NCAPs around the world. We also wanted our local auto manufacturers to be ready to implement NCAP when the time comes,” recalled the Miros researcher, who is also the secretary-general of Asean NCAP.

Established in 2011, the Asean NCAP is just the latest NCAP programme to come online. It joins other NCAP programmes such as US NCAP, Euro NCAP, Japan NCAP, Latin NCAP and Australian NCAP. Khairil is proud that the Asean NCAP was set up with less than a dozen staff, mostly fresh graduates.

A Mechanical Engineering graduate from Okayama University of Science in Japan, Khairil had two years of working experience in Japan, where he worked as a design engineer and another seven years with two renowned local automotive companies.

“The challenge was to set up a crash lab, and yet we didn’t have the money to offer the turn-key consultant. Therefore, we worked closely with equipment suppliers and tried to figure out how to go about it. Fortunately, the UN Decade of Action that was launched in 2011 gave the Asean NCAP the much-needed financial support.

“The heart of the crash lab is the propulsion system and design, but the local suppliers that we worked with knew nothing about crash systems. Ten days before the launch, we found out that our propulsion system was neither fit nor safe for the crash test. It needed a complete overhaul for the launch. But thanks to strong team spirit, we worked night and day to overcome it and successfully launched the lab on May 24, 2012. It was a real breakthrough,” he recalled.

“The crash test on Toyota Vios during the crash lab opening ceremony caught the attention of the world,” said Khairil, adding that most manufacturers have since reacted well to further improve vehicle safety. For example, Toyota ensures that all models are equipped with at least two airbags, or risk losing competitiveness on safety as a result of poor star ratings.

To date, the Asean NCAP has assessed 37 models of various SUVs, small cars, sedans, MPVs and also pick-up trucks at its crash lab, known as Miros PC3, in Bukit Katil, Malacca. “But in total we have assessed 116 vehicles, as some are carried out at the Japan Automobile Research Institute (Jari) facilities in Japan.” Some 19 manufacturers have had their vehicles tested for their crashworthiness and safety.

Improving safety aspects

Three years down the road, Khairil is glad that car manufacturers in the Asean region are improving on the safety aspects of their vehicles. Currently, 90% of car models scored at least four out of the highest five star rating.

Khairil said the Asean NCAP will continue covering the spectrum of passive safety (crashworthiness), but next in the pipe line – between 2017 and 2020 – cars will also be assessed on their ability to avoid collision.

“From 2020 onwards, autonomous driving will be our mission, and we hope to be at par with other NCAP programmes, including the Euro NCAP,” explained Khairil.

On customer awareness of NCAP ratings, Khairil admitted that the awareness level is rather low, but is happy that manufacturers such as Proton and Perodua have been raising the safety bar since Asean NCAP came into picture.

“For example, Perodua Axia achieved a 4-star rating,” he said, adding that Proton’s latest model, Iriz, outperformed its rivals by scoring five-stars. Unlike before, these days, it is not uncommon for cars in the Malaysian market to be equipped with six or seven airbags.

“We are also proud that car manufacturers are also gearing up towards having motorcycle-friendly cars by equipping their vehicles with Lanewatch and Blind Spot indicators to help reduce motorcycle casualties,” he added.

Having seen the impact of many crashes, he advised potential car buyers to accept nothing less than 5-star models, if they can afford it. He explained that Asean NCAP five-star rating also means that the model is equipped with other safety features, including the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) that helps vehicles avoid accidents.

“Even if the crash happens, chances are the occupants in the five-star vehicles would be better protected,” said the man who has not only honoured his promise, but also kept Radin’s dream alive.

Yusof Ghani is a researcher with the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS)

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