Nobody in the UK has died in an accident involving a Volvo V40. That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? It was made to me by an expert from safety organisation Thatcham Research, and is the sort of statement that would steer quite a few car-buying decisions, I’d wager.
Understandably Volvo isn’t about to shout about it, not least I suspect because of the potential repercussions when someone – inevitably, I guess – does die in one. Still, it did hammer home a point being made at the recent Safest Used Family Car Awards, run by Co-Op Insurance and backed by Thatcham.
As well as naming the V40 with optional safety pack fitted as the winner, the Awards organisers polled the public in relation to their understanding of safety equipment and how important a factor it was when choosing a car. The results were pretty bleak.
It was revealed only 4% place car safety at the top of their buying criteria - with criteria such as colour, brand and performance taking priority (as well as more obvious ones, such as price, mileage and fuel economy).
The survey further revealed that 68% of potential buyers have no idea what the safety rating of their own car is, and 54% did not ask any questions about safety features such as Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Keep Assist and Blind Spot Detection.
Do we really care so little about safety? Actually, I suspect it’s more the case that we take it for granted. Even then Thatcham’s Director of Research, Matthew Avery, had some words of wisdom, pointing out that a used five-star car is still far safer than a significantly lower rated one; even on a budget of a few thousand pounds, he argues, you can prioritise safety.
The challenge is in how rulemakers and lobby groups change the status quo. In part, they work with it, by pushing manufacturers to fit the kit as standard so that the buying public don’t have to think about it. Trouble is, they do have to pay for it - so some manufacturers are understandably reluctant to ramp up prices to compensate for that extra safety equipment.
The only other way to progress the cause is through education. The Awards named the UK’s top 10 safest used family cars, but set a minimum standard of five Euro NCAP stars, a price under £15,000 and CO2 emissions of less than 120g/km.
It’s not a catch-all list by any means - different buyers have different priorities – but it seems a reasonable start in the long journey at the heart of used car buying decisions.