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Mandatory car tech will save lives but education and confidence is key

Plans to mandate advanced safety systems, including autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and intelligent speed limiters, on all new cars from 2022 will bring significant improvements for road safety, but consumer education and confidence is key.

Ford S-Max dashboard showing Intelligent Speed Limiter technology

Ford’s Intelligent Speed Limiter technology is available on the S-MAX and Galaxy

That’s the view of some motoring and road safety organisations after a provisional EU deal on the legislation was reached Monday night (25th March) in Strasbourg just weeks after the transport policies were greenlighted by members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO).

The policies – known as the Third Mobility Package – will see a range of different systems be required on new cars within the next three years. This will include advanced safety features such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection and overridable intelligent speed assistance (ISA), alcohol interlock installation facilitation, drowsiness and attention detection and accident data recorders. And new lorries will be expected to have better levels of direct vision to give drivers a better chance of seeing vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

According to the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the new laws – which are now subject to formal approval before being implemented across Europe – could save 25,000 lives by 2037. Richard Cuerden, head of TRL’s Academy, said: “The advanced safety measures for new vehicles will provide state of the art protection to all road users. intelligent speed assistance and drowsiness and distraction recognition will support drivers in their ongoing tasks; autonomous emergency braking and emergency lane Keeping will intervene in the most critical situations to avoid a crash; and improved crash tests will ensure that injuries of occupants as well as pedestrians and cyclists are minimised in the remaining collisions.”

However, with much media focus on the use of intelligent speed limiters, Thatcham Research has warned that there could be some issues.

Matthew Avery, leading car safety expert and director of insurance research at Thatcham Research, said: “Greater adherence to speed limits would avert many accidents and mitigate the effects of those that do occur. Many drivers want to remain safe and drive within the law, however they can find identifying when to change from one speed limit to another difficult and distracting. In this respect, intelligent speed assistance systems will help to keep drivers safe and legal.”

However, he warned there are limitations to current ISA systems. “Speed signs can often be obscured or inaccurate, while GPS mapping can be out of date. Temporary limits and road works can confuse the system too.”

“There could also be a danger that drivers ‘adapt’ to the system – and come to over-rely on it, planting their throttle to the floor in the expectation that the car will control the speed. This could be a distraction danger and lead to speeding fines if the system is not picking up the limit correctly. And drivers will still be liable, whether they were relying on the system or not.

“If the benefits of ISA systems are to be fully realised, consumers must be well educated to instil confidence around safe and proper usage.”

He also noted that it was important to remember that the laws will also make other technologies, including Autonomous Emergency Braking, compulsory. “History will come to recognise AEB as the most important car safety innovation since the seatbelt,” said Avery. “Achieving a five-star Euro NCAP rating today without AEB fitted as standard is essentially impossible.”

The RAC – while welcoming the overall deal – has also questioned the benefits of the use of intelligent speed limiters to some drivers.

Road safety spokesperson Pete Williams said: “Limiting speed may initially sound somewhat Big Brother-like, but as it stands the intention is for the technology to be overridable in certain situations – for example by pressing hard on the accelerator to complete an over-taking manoeuvre. In addition, vehicles will not brake automatically when going from a faster to a slower speed limit, meaning it will still be down to the driver to brake appropriately.

“But as the limiters can be overridden it naturally begs the question whether some drivers will do this regularly to bypass the system, potentially undermining some of the system’s benefits.

“But just because a vehicle’s speed is limited doesn’t mean that drivers can accelerate as fast as they like up to the limit they are in. We should always drive at the right speed for the conditions, whether that’s due to traffic, bad weather or other hazards.”

He added: “While there is much talk in these proposals about speed limiters, the greatest benefit may well be in technology that can prevent distractions and improve drivers’ concentration as this could massively improve road safety.”

Meanwhile telematics firm Trak Global Group (TGG) has expressed concerns over how quickly the overall legislation would actually be implemented.

Andrew Brown-Allan, group marketing director of TGG, said: “The EU’s timeline is ambitious. Making e-Call mandatory was first proposed in 2012, but it only became mandatory in April 2018 – the delays largely being due to pressure from car manufacturers. There is evidence to suggest that history might repeat here, as the newly released report estimates the anticipated total impact (one-off and ongoing production costs) for car manufacturers will amount to €57.4bn(£48.9bn) at present value cost, while at the same time not anticipating a retail price increase on new vehicles. This is likely to attract economic tension and therefore significant attention (and lobbying) from vehicle manufacturers.”

He also noted how long it will take the technology to cascade through to younger car buyers through the used car market, adding: “EU regulators need to consider other ways to leverage technology to make motoring both safer and more affordable for the next generation of motorists; for example, we have spent six years lobbying for concessions to Insurance Premium Tax for any young driver with telematics-enabled insurance in their first year, because there is hard evidence that telematics reduces  both collision frequency and severity for this group of road users.”

And Brown also commented on how data from advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will provide a valuable key indicator for telematics in terms of a driver’s risk profile – which the company itself is already exploring

“For example, is frequent activation of systems such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane keep assist an indication of driver distraction and perhaps an over-reliance on semi-autonomous systems’ limited capabilities? Similarly, being able to read the frequency with which a driver overrides the vehicle’s proposed automatic speed limiter (which will be a ubiquitous feature) is also likely to offer a reliable proxy for the driver’s risk exposure,” he finished.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.