Blair family car worst in safety test

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The Independent Online
"PEOPLE CARRIERS" used by thousands of parents for school runs are far less safe than they appear, according to crash tests which found that the model owned by Tony Blair came bottom.

The Chrysler Voyager, the second most popular "multi purpose vehicle" (MPV) in the UK market, fared disastrously in research that simulated head-on and side-impact collisions. The European-wide tests used dummies to stand in for humans. The head-on crash, at 40mph, showed that the driver would risk serious injury to the legs and especially chest as the steering column was forced in and upwards.

The side-on crash, at 30mph, also showed that the driver's head and torso would be endangered by intruding bodywork.

Of eight manufacturers' MPVs tested in British and Dutch laboratories, the Voyager was the only one not to be given a rating of three or four stars, receiving only two.

In common with thousands of other people, the Blairs bought their pounds 26,000 Chrysler Voyager - able to carry up to seven people - two years ago. Theirs is reported to have been fitted with extras costing pounds 4,000, including a television, video and fridge.

On being told of the test result, a Downing Street official said: "The choice of a family car is purely a matter for the Blairs."

Many families have chosen MPVs - frequently for their apparent safety features. From a standing start in 1990, when just 7,240 were sold, MPVs now make up 2 per cent of the whole market, with 47,546 sold in 1998. Of those, the most popular was the Ford Galaxy, while the Volkswagen Sharan came third.

"The people carrier has become a Nineties phenomenon, increasingly seen as the practical choice for family motoring," said Max Mosley, chairman of the New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), which co-ordinated the tests. "Unfortunately many of the people carriers we tested provided a very poor safety performance in frontal collisions. The worst performing of those tested, the Chrysler Voyager, achieved a two-star rating with an appalling zero rating for the front impact test."

The Renault Espace came top of the safety table, with the Toyota Picnic winning four stars. Three stars were awarded to the other five vehicles in the test - the Peugeot 806, Nissan Serena, Volkswagen Sharan, Mitsubishi Space Wagon and the Vauxhall/Opel Sintra. But tests showed that the Sintra could present "unacceptably high risk of severe injury" to the lower legs in a head-on crash.

A spokesman for the AA said: "A lot of people will be shocked at these results, particularly as a survey we did showed that drivers considered MPV manufacturers were more concerned about safety than the makers of conventional vehicles.

"Some of these MPVs achieved poor marks, but two got four stars, which shows what can be done. Clearly, manufacturers can do better."

The NCAP result follows a survey last year by What Car? magazine, which showed that the Chrysler Grand Voyager was the least "green" of 84 petrol- engined cars tested.

Chrysler said yesterday that the NCAP test "does not reflect the safety record the popular Chrysler Voyager has compiled where it matters the most - on the road, under the `real world' driving conditions motorists face every day".

The company said that studies done by the insurance industry in Sweden and the United States had concluded that the Voyager was among the safest vehicles on the road.

A spokesman said: "One of the NCAP tests - the frontal offset test - simulates a high-speed collision that accounts for less than 1 per cent of all traffic accidents. That is not [to] say the NCAP tests are without merit or value. Our safety engineers are reviewing these findings and will consider them along with other crash test results and real-world data collected on these vehicles."