Sydney opens car crash exhibition

A Honda Fit during a crash test. Photo / Supplied
A Honda Fit during a crash test. Photo / Supplied

The glitzy showroom on Sydney's York Street has housed its fair share of luxury cars. Today, however, it's home to a bevy of smashed-up motors.

The wrecks visible through its floor-to-ceiling windows aren't for sale. They're the stars of the "crashed car showroom", a free interactive exhibition designed to hammer home car safety.

In one display, attendees can sit in a new Holden Commodore and don a pair of virtual reality goggles while the car smashes - virtually - into a wall. Hydraulics move the car around, mimicking the forces involved.

The system then resets and the stunt is repeated - this time in a 1982 model, with far more catastophic results.

The safety features accumulated over the years - anti-lock braking, electronic stability control, airbags - are gone. Its safety features instead total a couple of seatbelts and a bumper bar.

In another display, attendees fire squash ball-sized hailstones at a car door at 142 metres per second, mimicking what can happen in real life.

Elsewhere, people are encouraged to text while in a driving simulator - with predictably horrific results.

Car safety has improved considerably over the past three decades, says Robert McDonald, head of research at the NRMA, which is behind the exhibition.

But in-house research shows a worrying lack of basic knowledge about the standard car safety features.

More than 70 per cent of 1000 respondents did not know what ABS (anti-lock braking system) was, while 80 per cent did not know what ESC (electronic stability control) stood for, even though the feature is now mandatory on new Australian cars.

"It's surprising how little people know," McDonald says.

"People know they have seatblets and sometimes they know they have one or two airbags, but that's about it."

The lack of knowledge regarding ABS, which prevents a car skidding during an emergency stop, is especially worrying, he says.

Some people are so surprised when the ABS makes its characteristic noise that they lift their foot off the brake.

The exhibition shows how far car safety has come, but McDonald says there are many improvements ahead.

Autonomous technology, the focus of current research by the world's technology and automotive giants, will be the next big thing, he predicts.

Australian car-share company GoGet has even entered the fray, partnering with the University of New South Wales to test an partially autonomous vehicle on Sydney's roads.

Autonomous braking systems, in which sensors detect hazards and tell the brakes to engage, will lead a wave of developments, becoming a standard feature within five years, he says.

-AAP

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