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UK car buyers choose styling and entertainment options over safety kit

Safety expert Thatcham Research calls for improved dealer training to explain the benefits of crash avoidance technology, after new research shows small uptake of safety options

Words BySteve Huntingford

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Safety is the second-highest priority for UK car buyers, new research suggests, but at the same time only a fifth would be prepared to pay extra for crash avoidance technology.

The study by the Stop the Crash Partnership, which includes safety expert Thatcham Research and NCAP crash test agencies from around the world, found that 83% of drivers think safety equipment should be standard and that as many as nine million wouldn't consider specifying it as an optional extra.

Stop the Crash argues that this, combined with the fact that dealerships rarely have cars with optional safety features on their forecourts, explains why just 3.5% of buyers currently take up safety options.

The findings mirror those of a recent What Car? survey, which showed that nearly four times as many people choose connectivity gadgets over safety upgrades when specifying a new car.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) was found to be the most popular safety system selected, but less than 20% of drivers choose it. By contrast, 64% spend extra cash to set up sat-nav and half of all drivers upgrade to get a digital radio – at a cost similar to the Β£200 estimated to install AEB.

The What Car? research showed that comfort and styling upgrades rank higher than safety items for most new car buyers, too, with features such as heated seats (by 60%) and alloy wheels (42%) being chosen in more specifications.

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham, said: β€œOur good safety intentions seem to evaporate on arriving at the dealership. There’s an urgent need to change the consumer mindset to negotiate for the inclusion of additional safety options. But a shift in the dealer mindset is also required, and vehicle manufacturers must invest in training to achieve this.

β€œDealers need deeper knowledge of active safety systems, to capture the imagination of buyers. And at the moment there’s also a lack of stock with safety systems on board. This means that dealers can’t demo safety tech and may even be encouraged to shift the conversation away from safety options to avoid processing a factory order.”

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