The body responsible for crash testing all new cars in Europe is to start grading autonomous driving technology as part of its assessments.
In its Road Map 2025 policy document, Euro NCAP sets out a timetable for adding systems including collision avoidance technology, driver awareness detection and vehicle-to-vehicle communications to its tests.
It also sets out plans to look beyond technology’s impact on occupant safety to how it helps protect vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
Peter Shaw, chief executive of Thatcham Research, Euro NCAP’s UK laboratory, commented: “Euro NCAP’s “Road Map 2025” is a significant message of intent, and marks a watershed in vehicle safety assessments and ratings.
“It is no longer about just protecting car occupants in an accident, but also assessing how capable a car can brake and steer automatically to avoid other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. It lays the foundations for safety assessment of future autonomous vehicles.”
“There is a lot of misunderstanding, over-expectation and perhaps some suspicion, of a world in which cars can drive themselves”
Michiel van Ratingen, Euro NCAP
Even basic models are increasingly being equipped with technologies that feed into plans for self-driving cars. Cruise control, lane departure systems and autonomous emergency braking use sensors and systems that will eventually help vehicles become fully autonomous. However, at the moment there is a great deal of confusion about how independent such systems are, with different manufacturers offering different capabilities and using different naming conventions.
Euro NCAP says that by adding such systems to its testing programme it will provide clear information to consumers about the degree of automation in a car and how safely that automation has been implemented.
Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research’s director of research added: “We have concerns over the way car manufacturers name and market assisted and automated driving functionalities, with “auto” or “pilot” prefixes. People are looking for answers around how safe the new assisted and autonomous technologies are, and the Euro NCAP assessments and ratings will give clear information about how safely it operates, and what obligations the driver has around taking back control.”
By 2020 Euro NCAP will assess primary safety systems including driver monitoring, automatic emergency steering and autonomous emergency braking, as well as secondary features such as whiplash protection and the ease of rescue and extrication from a vehicle.
By 2022 the systems’ impact on pedestrian and cyclist safety will also be rated and by 2024 the tests will take into account the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications ability of new cars.
Announcing the Road Map 2025 programme, Euro NCAP’s secretary general, Michiel van Ratingen, said: “The potential safety benefits of automated driving are huge. If we can eliminate human error, we should see road casualty numbers tumbling and many lives being saved. But there is a lot of misunderstanding, over-expectation and perhaps some suspicion, of a world in which cars can drive themselves.
“Our role will be to provide clear information to consumers about the degree of automation in a car and how safely that automation has been implemented. Quite a challenge, but essential if Euro NCAP is to continue pressing for improvements from those who make cars and providing meaningful information to those who buy them.”