An important year for vehicle safety in Europe

Vehicle safety standards in Europe need improvement

Executive Director of the European Transport Safety Council, Antonio Avenoso, discusses the role that technology and regulation have to play in addressing vehicle safety, driver fatigue and distraction.

In 2016, 25,500 people lost their lives on EU roads – a figure that has hardly budged in three years. A further 135,000 people are seriously injured each year. It’s a devastating human toll, but also an important economic one, and highlights the ongoing importance of vehicle safety.

The European Commission is set to revise the General Safety Regulation 661/2009 and the Pedestrian Protection Regulation 78/2009 in 2018. These regulations represent the most direct and effective measures the EU has in order to further reduce road deaths and injuries.

While many vehicles are tested by the Euro NCAP consumer testing programme, cars that meet the minimum EU legal requirements today would receive zero stars – as was recently the case with the retested Fiat Punto. Not all car models sold in Europe are tested by Euro NCAP, and not all of the same type are sold with the same standards of vehicle safety equipment. Regulation is needed to ensure that modern safety benefits are spread equally to all EU citizens.

Ambitious safety standards benefit the automotive industry by helping European vehicle producers and suppliers maintain their global lead in vehicle safety technology. This strengthens their competitive position in the European market but also increases export opportunities.

The share of deaths of unprotected road users is increasing as car occupants have been the main beneficiaries of improved vehicle safety. A focus on vulnerable road users is now needed. Pedestrians represent around 21% of total EU road deaths – around two thirds of these occur in urban areas. Cyclists comprise around 8% of total EU road traffic deaths.

Many of the technologies and sensors used for driver assistance systems will be required for autonomous vehicles, but proven technologies should be adopted as driver assistance systems today. Policymakers should not wait for driverless cars or hope that they will be a panacea for road safety in the near future.

What are the priority technologies that ETSC would like to see in all new cars?

Intelligent Speed Assistance

Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) helps drivers comply with speed limits. It uses:

  • GPS;
  • A database of speed limit locations; as well as
  • Sign-recognition cameras to automatically limit a vehicle’s speed.

Several studies have found that the benefits substantially outweigh the costs.
ETSC recommends fitting all new commercial vehicles with assisting ISA systems by 2020. The system should offer an override feature – up to 100km/h for buses and 90km/h for lorries – in line with existing EU legislation on speed limiters. ETSC also recommends fitting all new passenger cars and vans with an assisting ISA system – which also offers the same override feature – by 2020.

Alcohol interlocks

Alcohol interlocks are connected to the vehicle ignition system and require the driver to take a breath test in order to drive the vehicle. If the driver is found with alcohol above the national legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit, the engine will not start.

ETSC recommends introducing uniform standards for alcohol interlocks in Europe which ensure that vehicle interfaces allow installation of an alcohol interlock into any new car by 2020. As a first step towards wider use of alcohol interlocks, the EU should also make it necessary for professional drivers to take these tests by 2020.

Seatbelt Reminder Systems

Seatbelt reminders detect occupants and their seatbelt use in all seating positions, and then create a series of alarms to alert the car occupant if he or she is not belted. There are different types of seatbelt reminders – some issue visual warnings only whilst others issue both visual and auditory warnings.

ETSC recommends extending the mandatory fitment of advanced seatbelt reminders as standard equipment to the front passenger seat by 2020 for new types, and 2022 for new vehicles. Mandatory fitment of advanced seatbelt reminders (including occupancy detection) to rear seats should be required by 2022 for new types, and 2024 for new vehicles. Seatbelt pre-tensioners and load limiters should be required by 2020.

Surprisingly, South Korea is already set to require seatbelt reminders in all seats, and India will soon confirm that front driver and passenger seats should have seatbelt reminders from July 2019.

Automated Emergency Braking

Automated Emergency Braking (AEB) systems can help avoid crashes or mitigate their severity by warning the driver and supporting braking response and/or applying the brakes independently of the driver.

ETSC recommends mandatory installation of AEB systems with pedestrian and cyclist detection in 2020 for all new types of vehicle, including heavy goods vehicles.

South Korea has already announced that new cars sold on their market from January 2019 must be fitted with AEB and Lane Keep Assistance

Lane Keep Assistance

Current Lane Keep Assistance (LKA) systems help the driver to stay in their lane. They function at speeds typically from 65 km/h and work by monitoring the position of the vehicle with respect to the lane boundary, typically via a camera mounted behind the rear-view mirror. When a vehicle drifts out of the lane, the LKA system gently guides the vehicle back into the lane by the application of torque to the steering wheel, or one-sided braking.

ETSC recommends introducing Lane Keep Assistance by 2020 to passenger cars and light trucks and vans.

Distraction and fatigue

Driving whilst using a mobile phone and other electronic devices significantly impairs driving ability and is thought to play a role in 20-30% of all road collisions. There is a long, long list of distractions, mainly in-vehicle distractions that undermine the driver or the rider’s ability to perform the driving task. Fatigue is also a road safety challenge.

A wide range of technologies may be used to identify distraction or drowsiness in drivers in order to minimise collisions. Systems may employ:

  • Physiological monitoring;
  • Physical monitoring; or
  • Behavioural indices and patterns.

The European Commission has proposed developing a multi-phase, technology neutral testing protocol for all M and N vehicles with application dates recommended to be coupled with AEB and LKA.

ETSC would like to see manufacturers publish test results to show whether their infotainment systems are in compliance with the HMI Guidance Statement of Principle on in-vehicle information and infotainment systems. ETSC also supports the development of a multi-phase, technology neutral testing protocol for all cars and vans for distraction and drowsiness monitoring by 2020.

Event Data Recorders

Event Data Recorders (EDR) record a range of vehicle data over a short timeframe – before, during, and after a triggering threshold, and are typically used to record information about road traffic collisions which cannot be reliably identified by the usual police investigations.

Most new cars and vans have EDR functionality already, although the data is not easily accessible.

ETSC recommends requiring EDR in all new vehicles by 2020 with a high level of specification, in order to record the status of all in-car safety systems (when fitted) in the moments leading up to a collision, and also record data surrounding a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist.

Crash tests

ETSC strongly supports the introduction of front small overlap tests. This test exposes a weak point of most vehicles and benefits could be significant. A full width test is also needed.

A front offset test requires that one side of the car is loaded in order to check compartment integrity. Currently, the off-set impact test is performed only for cars of less than 2,500kg maximum mass. ETSC recommends expanding the scope of this test to include all cars and vans.

Regarding side impact tests, ETSC would support introducing an updated mobile deformable barrier, representing a larger and heavier car impacting into the side of the struck vehicle.

At present, vehicles generally perform well in the Euro NCAP pole test. ETSC would support such a test becoming mandatory and supports an additional requirement that an assessment of the window curtain airbag coverage is added.

It was estimated that fitment of far-side occupant protection in Europe could prevent up to 670 fatalities and up to 4,600 serious injuries annually. ETSC recommends adding far-side occupant protection and supporting the development of a test protocol.

It has been reported that 19% of all passenger cars involved in an accident have at least one rear impact. ETSC recommends making a rear impact crash test mandatory.

Pedestrian protection requirements

Driver assistance systems such as advanced emergency braking should be seen as a complement to, not a replacement for pedestrian safety testing requirements.

In addition to preserving the existing test requirements for pedestrian protection, ETSC recommends the following additions and modifications. ETSC recommends mandating the bonnet leading edge test, according to the latest 2015 Euro NCAP pedestrian testing protocol.

The adult headform to windscreen protection test is designed to observe the impact of an adult headform on the windscreen, and the protection offered by vehicles in this area. Currently this test is performed at 35 km/h with an adult headform impactor and is carried out for ‘monitoring purposes only’.

ETSC recommends mandating the adult headform to windscreen protection test, as well as an evaluation study to investigate the type of injuries resulting from vehicle to pedestrian and cyclist collisions, in order to update the existing test. The impact speed should be increased to at least 40km/h – a level which reflects real collision circumstances.

Cyclist injuries from collisions with cars are an oft-neglected subject. The review of the regulation should also consider investigating injury mechanisms for cyclist and car collisions.

No time to lose

Minimum vehicle safety standards in the EU have not been updated since 2009, and Europe risks losing its leadership position to markets like South Korea, who have already announced plans for mandatory installation of:

  • Automated Emergency Braking;
  • Lane Keep Assistance; and
  • Seatbelt reminders in all seats.

In a resolution passed in November 2017, the European Parliament said that “more effective” vehicle safety measures are needed in order to reach the long term goal of “no fatalities”. In May, EU Transport Ministers from all 28 Member States also backed a revision of the standards.

The European Commission is set to publish a list of new requirements in May 2018, after several years of delay. It’s high time updated vehicle safety standards for new cars finally made it across the finish line.

Antonio Avenoso
Executive Director
European Transport Safety Council


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