There can be little doubt that the safety of all road users remains a high priority to all manufacturers within the motor industry.
With increasingly more consumers making safety their top priority, manufacturers continue to implement new technological developments to ensure the continual development of vehicle safety features. Increasingly more of these are also being fitted as standard (as opposed to being an optional extra), thus making the overall safety package much more attractive to the driver or potential buyer.
One of the best (and most common) ways for drivers to assess the safety of their vehicle is through the European New Car Assessment Programme (‘Euro NCAP’) which provides consumers with an independent assessment of safety performance across the vast majority of vehicles which are sold both in the UK and across Europe.
In this article we take a look, more specifically, at the manufacturer’s role in improving car safety features.
About Euro NCAP
Established in 1997, Euro NCAP has rapidly become a catalyst for encouraging significant safety features in new vehicle designs; with the primary goal being for each vehicle to achieve five stars across all four of the tested categories, namely:
- Adult protection (for both driver and passengers)
- Child protection
- Pedestrian protection
- Safety Assist technologies
The Safety Assist score is determined by various rigorous tests which include:
- Electronic Stability Control (‘ESC’) – which is aimed to help the driver maintain control by improving the vehicle’s stability and detecting any loss of traction.
- Seatbelt Reminders (‘SBR’) – these are aimed to reward those manufacturers who fit intelligent SBR systems on all possible seating positions within the vehicle.
- Autonomous Emergency Breaking (AEB) Interurban – these systems support the driver by pre-warning them of a rear-end crash, supporting sufficient braking or ultimately stopping the vehicle itself.
- Lane Support System – introduced in 2014, lane support systems can assist and warn the driver when they unintentionally leave the road lane – or change lane without giving any indication of their intention to do so. Suffice it to say, they’re of huge benefit to drivers who regularly use the motorway and additional points are awarded for those vehicles equipped with a Blind Spot Monitoring System too.
There can be little question that Euro NCAP continue to play a vital role within the industry – not only through their vigorous testing procedures, but also by encouraging car manufacturers to elevate their vehicle safety standards on a voluntary basis.
At the time of writing (January 2018), more than 85% of all cars sold in both the UK and across Europe have either four or five stars for safety, thus proving that manufacturers can quite easily reach – if not exceed – the minimum legal requirements.
What are the current legal requirements?
There are currently two main tests stipulated within the EU’s General Safety Regulations (a frontal impact test under UN Regulation 94 and a side impact test under UN Regulation 95). These are required for all cars being sold in the EU.
Whilst manufacturers are clearly able to design their cars as they best see fit, there are currently very few safety features required by law – and this is perhaps surprising given the very high standards they must still adhere to. In fact, under UN Regulations 14 and 16, the only set requirements are the fitment and performance of seat belts, together with a car driver seat belt reminder system. That said, the EU is likely to announce further requirements during 2018. These could well include crash test improvements for occupant safety and seat belt reminders for all occupants, not just the driver.
What are the mandatory testing standards?
All new vehicles sold across both the UK and Europe must meet certain minimum requirements for occupant safety and these are currently subject to crash tests which are carried out by independent testing authorities.
As you might expect, different standards apply to different categories of vehicle, all of which are more specifically detailed within the General Safety Regulations.
At the present time, different regions across the globe have their own set of standards to adhere to. However, the EU is actively seeking to harmonise these as far as possible through the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) regulatory framework, of which there are currently 56 member states.
So what are car manufacturers doing to improve safety features?
Aside from the standards laid down by Euro NCAP, car manufacturers are continuing to take a very proactive approach when it comes to safety and this can only be encouraging news for everyone.
Safety features can be split into two main categories namely “active safety” and “passive safety.” Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.
“Active safety” systems operate in conjunction with the driver – for example, electronic stability control, whereas “Passive safety” systems operate without any driver input – for example, airbags.
At the present time, the fitting of most passive features isn’t specified within European law; thus, enabling car manufacturers to work with very few restrictions in terms of overall passenger safety. In fact, the only set of requirements are the fitting of seatbelts, a driver seatbelt reminder and an ISOFIX anchor system for child seats. That said, if manufacturers merely fitted seat belts it could certainly prove extremely difficult to pass the current mandatory crash tests – and especially the frontal impact test. As a result of this, most manufacturers now fit (at the very least) a driver airbag which provides adequate protection for the purpose of passing the test.
In terms of providing optional extras, most car manufacturers are responding to consumer demand and fitting other voluntary-fitted measures. These typically include:
- Steering columns which move during a crash (thereby providing the driver with better protection)
- Moveable head restraints, aimed to provide extra protection against whiplash
- Additional airbags (including knee airbags to help prevent pelvic fractures)
- Softer internal fittings
- Adaptive restraint systems, designed to adapt to the specific circumstances of a crash
It seems quite apparent that car manufacturers play a very important part when it comes to improving car safety standards and a revision of the General Safety Regulations will no doubt enhance the level of input required from them in the months and years to follow. For example, whilst we’ve seen that both frontal and side impact tests are currently compulsory, there’s currently no provision for rear impact testing and this is likely to change in the future. Indeed, according to road safety experts, such as ‘Brake’, this would certainly go some way towards verifying safety standards of the vehicle’s fuel system too.
Fortunately, with so much transparency in terms of safety features, finding the right vehicle has never been easier and, with independent test results being made available to potential buyers, each manufacturer’s approach to safety is quite apparent.
Quite what will be expected of manufacturers in the future remains to be seen but, for now at least, it’s certainly reassuring news for everyone.