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Are fleets failing to take vehicle safety seriously?

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Fleets are ignoring Euro-NCAP safety ratings when it comes to selecting vehicles, according to a poll by Fleet News.

Only one-in-five fleets say that five stars in EuroNCAP tests is a requirement for company car selection, while almost 60% of fleets say they don’t use EuroNCAP.

The result is a blow for the safety organisation which has tested hundreds of vehicles over the past 15 years suggesting its safety message is not hitting home with those responsible for buying most of the new cars in the UK.

However, given the work carried out by EuroNCAP since its inception in 1997, and how important the results have become to the vehicle manufacturers involved, there could also be a perception that all new cars are safe.

ACFO chairman Julie Jenner said: “I’m not aware that fleets use safety as one of their vehicle selection criteria. I believe most customers are including vehicles on their choice list that already achieve a four or five star rating so it’s just not an issue.”

Jenner added that the tough economic environment since 2008 had brought overall cost issues to the fore, which could have ruled out top-rated cars for safety if their operating costs proved to be more expensive.

“I often see a minimum fuel economy requirement being applied more frequently than in previous years but, in the main, as long as the vehicle fits within the wholelife cost allowance and is fit for purpose, that tends to be the priority,” she said.

Some fleet operators have found that the way EuroNCAP operates – where some of the vehicles selected for testing are ‘sponsored’ by the manufacturers, while others are purchased for testing by the organisation – can lead to anomalies if a fleet is dealing with a limited number of car brands.

Larry Bannon, national fleet services manager at NHS Blood & Transport, said that as EuroNCAP often only tests a few models in a manufacturer’s range, using it as a standard for vehicle selection could prove restrictive.

“It might mean that one or two models in a manufacturers range could be selected under our policy, but not a different model, even though all models would be built to the same safety standards,” he said. “Therefore, setting a limit of say, only EuroNCAP five-star rated vehicles, was unduly limiting staff choice.”

But Renault suggested its safety record had been instrumental in it winning a number of fleet deals.
A spokesman said: “ the fleet supply agreements that we have recently won, driver and occupant safety and Euro NCAP have been critical in the decision.  Our view is that low CO2 and a high EuroNCAP score put you on the shortlist and helps you get your foot in the door.”

Marie Brasseur, a  spokesperson for EuroNCAP, told Fleet News: “We don’t test every car on the market, but not all cars are five-star cars and there are many different reasons as to why a car might not achieve the top rating, and you can’t take for granted that all cars will be safe.

“Evidence from last year shows there is no increase in the proportion of cars achieving five-star ratings.”

EuroNCAP has also signalled its intention to include more commercial vehicles for testing, and has already rated a number of pick-up trucks as well as van-derived people carriers. The vast majority of commercial vehicles will be used and operated by fleets, and EuroNCAP officials understand there is still a job to do when it comes to communicating with fleet operators.

“What we need to try to do is increase awareness of active safety systems,” said Brasseur.

“Cars may only achieve five stars because they are fitted with advanced safety systems which fleets should be considering.”

Michiel van Ratingen, EuroNCAP secretary general, added: “Today safety means more than protecting occupants in a crash. Through the expansion of our tests and the assessment of important active safety systems, our aim is to inform and allow all road users to benefit from safe cars with advanced systems in the most affordable way, and to contribute in reducing the number of road accidents.”

Testers place greater focus on active safety systems

EuroNCAP was established in 1997 and is composed of seven European Governments as well as motoring and consumer organisations in every European country, including the Department for Transport and Thatcham from the UK.

The first car to achieve a five-star rating was the Renault Laguna in 2001, and more five-star cars followed as manufacturers were able to better understand the criteria required to score well in the tests.

Initially the few cars to achieve five stars gained significant positive coverage benefiting manufacturers such as Renault, whose new products since the Laguna of 2001 most frequently achieved top ratings.

However, as more cars achieved five-stars, it was the vehicles with low scores that hit the headlines.
Initially the focus of the test was on the structure of the vehicles and passive safety. In recent years there has been a greater focus on active safety systems, particularly electronic stability control.

EuroNCAP has often updated the benchmarks for top rating, so a car tested in the past would not necessarily attain the same score now. For example, the Toyota Aygo was tested in December and achieved three stars on the current criteria, having scored four stars when it was launched in 2005.

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