New Zealand’s Motor Industry Association (MIA), a trade association of new car importers, said used car safety ratings released by the Land Transport Safety Authority this week will be of some value to car buyers, provided that the information is kept in context.

The ratings have been released because ‘open market’ New Zealand allows a vast number of used cars to be imported, mostly from Japan. The annual quantity is usually at least double the number of new cars shipped in.

The ratings, which have been prepared by Monash University’s Accident Research Centre using several years of crash statistics in both Australia and New Zealand, compare 255 different models of used car for the level of protection that they offer occupants in a crash.

The study relies on a significant number of accidents affecting each of the car models in the database, therefore ratings for later models will not be available until there has been a statistically meaningful number involved in accidents.

“The greatest value of this information is that it confirms the fact that generally speaking, the older the vehicle (class for class), the less protection it offers its occupants in a crash,” said MIA CEO Perry Kerr.

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The age of vehicles appearing for the first time on New Zealand roads is a major safety concern for the MIA.

“About two-thirds of the cars crossing our wharves are already an average of eight years old,” said Kerr. “This represents virtually two generations of crash safety technology, and makes New Zealand roads much less safe than they could be.

“New cars provide vastly superior occupant protection than eight year old cars and virtually all have the added benefit of sophisticated ABS braking systems with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, making them far less likely to be involved in an accident in the first place.

“We fully understand the LTSA’s motives in highlighting the degrees of occupant protection provided by used cars of various ages and types, but our roads would be a great deal safer if we didn’t allow the importation of so much outdated technology. The LTSA used car safety ratings certainly highlight just how little protection some older cars offer compared with today’s new cars,” Kerr added.