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Background

Vehicle safety is a key pillar of the Safe Systems strategic approach to managing road safety and plays a major role in reducing road trauma across Australasia and internationally. Research concerned with monitoring and evaluating advances in vehicle safety performance is vital to realize the road safety benefits than can be gained for safer vehicle choices.

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The Vehicle Safety Research Group is a consortium of 16 government road authorities and motoring clubs from Australia and New Zealand. The consortium oversees a major program of research undertaken by MUARC focused on vehicle safety monitoring and evaluation. The MUARC research program commenced early 1990s and is based on the analysis of real world crash risk and injury outcomes. The data system developed for the program incorporates crash reports compiled by police, claims for injury compensation from road crashes and vehicle registration and roadworthiness data compiled by government agencies across Australia and New Zealand. Information on vehicle specifications is enhanced through a Vehicle Identification Number decoding system built from both national vehicle certification data third party vehicle fleet monitoring data. In combination the elements of the assembled data system provide a powerful analytical platform for examining vehicle safety from exposure through to crash outcome at a highly specific level of vehicle detail.

The agenda and scope for the VSRG research program is jointly set by the VSRG consortium members based on current strategic priorities for vehicle safety documented in regional and national road safety strategies. VSRG consortium members are also responsible for implementation and communication of the results from the program ensuring a high level of relevance and translation of program outputs. Impacts from the program can be seen in a range of settings from establishment of new vehicle safety design regulations to underpinning major consumer information programs on vehicle safety performance including the well-known Used Car Safety Ratings.

Key research themes

A primary focus of the VSRG research program has been developing consumer advice on vehicle safety that rated the relative safety performance of light vehicles. The ratings system developed covers both the role of the vehicle in determining injury outcomes in the event of a crash (secondary safety) and, more recently, the contribution of vehicle design and specification to crash risk (primary safety). Secondary safety assessment covers not only how the vehicle protects its own occupants from injury in a crash (crashworthiness), but also the injury risk posed to other road users with which the vehicle collides (aggressivity). Vehicle safety ratings by make and model of vehicle were published in 1992 in brochure format. The brochure was later named the Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) brochure, which has subsequently been produced annually. In more recent times, the UCSR have also been published online both in tabular and searchable formats. Analysis has also been extended to look at average ratings by year of vehicle manufacture. This analysis clearly showed the effects of the introduction of Australia Design Rules (ADRs) – mandatory safety equipment and performance standards – in improving occupant protection performance and provided a mechanism for assessing the impacts of vehicle safety policy changes more broadly.

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The value of the data system assembled for estimating the UCSR has facilitated the expansion of the research program to consider a wide range of vehicle safety issues. The capacity of the program has also been expanded by collection of supplementary data sources including snapshots of vehicle registers, data on roadworthiness assessments and insurance claims data which include much greater detail on injury outcomes. Capitalising on the expansion of the data system, the VSRG research program has become much broader than only the vehicle safety ratings. The VSRG program has produced a large range of research outputs spanning a wide range of topics relating to vehicle safety, these topics include:

  • assessment of vehicle safety technologies (e.g. airbags, AEB, ESC);
  • modelling and projection of vehicle fleet composition and its effects on safety;
  • estimating crash risk;
  • consideration of the safety implications of vehicle choice on high risk road user groups (e.g. young drivers);
  • examination of the relationship between laboratory based vehicle safety assessments and real world crash outcomes;
  • evaluation of the impacts of vehicle safety policies and programs on crash and injury risk (e.g. annual roadworthiness inspections, high powered vehicle restrictions for novice drivers)

A large volume of research outputs has resulted, specifically MUARC has produced over 100 VSRG-funded research publications (including technical reports, peer-review journal and conference papers). The majority of these publications are publicly available whilst the remainder can be sources from conference and journal web sites.

Research publications

A repository of all the research publications funded by the VSRG can be found under each key theme. Each publication has been summarised to provide a very brief overview of the aims and scope of each project as well as the key outcomes. Publications have been assigned to one of five subheadings which define the broad research themes under which the VSRG research program outputs can be classified. Keywords associated with each publication and hyperlinks to the full publication can also be found below. Please note that not all publications are available to the public, but members of the public unable to access a specific publication are encouraged to contact MUARC.

Key research themes

A table with links to publications based on the publication keywords has also been generated.

Project sponsors

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