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Euro NCAP wants Speed Assist tech to help drivers control speeding

Euro NCAP wants Speed Assist tech to help drivers control speeding
Tristan Honeywill

With drivers more conscious of the risks posed by speeding, Euro NCAP is encouraging car makers to fit technologies that help drivers to maintain control of their speed on the roads. The safety organisation has developed tests for Intelligent Speed Assist systems and has now included them in its five-star safety assessment of new cars.

The safety organisation is moving beyond crash testing and is starting to assess technologies that help to prevent accidents. With so many driver assist technologies coming on the market, it is important for consumers to understand which ones improve safety. With speed the big risk factor in accidents, Intelligent Speed Assist is the logical place to begin.

Euro NCAP first introduced a test protocol for a speed assist device back in 2009. It has been a relatively minor part of the assessment. But with more advanced systems with road-sign recognition now available on new cars, the safety organisation is starting to put its weight behind the technology.

Speaking at the ESV Conference in Seoul in May, Euro NCAP programme manager Aled Williams said: “The driver always has ultimate responsibility for their speed, but technology exists to support them. We’d like manufacturers to help drivers to maintain control of their speed on the roads and so Euro NCAP is using its protocol to encourage car makers to develop these systems faster than they would otherwise.”

Download a copy of the presentation: New NCAP Protocols for Speed Assistance Systems

Euro NCAP’s assessment divides Speed Assist technologies into three categories. The most basic is a manual system where the driver sets the speed limit and there’s an audible warning if they exceed it. There are a growing number of systems that can then either brake or reduce the engine output to help the driver keep to the limit. The most advanced is a fully Intelligent Speed Assist system that does all of this automatically, asking the driver to confirm that they wish to keep within the limit and then helping them to achieve that.

The benefits for safety vary depending on the type of system used. “Intelligent systems that help the driver to keep to the local speed limit can reduce the risk of an accident by 40-50%,” said Williams. “The benefits for systems that the driver sets themselves are modest. For systems that intervene to prevent any kind of speeding, the benefits are far greater, but at the moment we’re only looking at systems where the driver has the option of over-riding.”

How does Intelligent Speed Assist work?
Speed Limit Assist camera

Speed Limit Assist camera

At the moment there are two main ways for the car to know the speed limit: using GPS and a digital map or by using a camera that reads road signs. The latter is useful as updated and reliable speed limit information will not be available across Europe for many years to come.

“Our rating scheme encourages systems that combine cameras and digital mapping,” said Williams. “It’s the most accurate approach. These systems are starting to be fitted to more new cars and are becoming more popular with drivers who wish to be safer, save money on fuel and avoid speeding fines.”

Euro NCAP’s protocol assesses three main areas. There is the speed limit information function: how aware the system is of the local legal speed limit. They assess the driver warning when the speed limit is exceeded. And they assess how well the system helps the driver to control their speed.

Speed is a sensitive issue for manufacturers. Some will see such on-board systems as an unwanted intrusion for customers, although the same companies have no problem with angst-inducing service interval alarms. Some things deserve the driver’s attention.

People buy cars to get to places faster, but they do want to know when they are going too fast – it’s not always obvious. On motorways cruise control helps to keep the car from running on too much. A system that does the same around town as you move from one speed limit to another would be useful. It’s already available on some luxury cars – how long before it’s as familiar as the seatbelt reminder?

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