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Rule changes at Euro NCAP in 2013 make it harder for cars to get five stars

Tristan Honeywill

Rule changes at Euro NCAP in 2013 will make it harder for cars to get five stars. The safety organisation is changing the way that it assesses child safety and is asking car makers to fit more driver assistance systems.

Euro NCAP’s Secretary General Michiel van Ratingen is satisfied with the progress made on safety so far: “I’m happy we were able to test all the cars on our wish-list last year,” he says. “Manufacturers are still interested in getting the rating, and even if it is harder to get a five-star rating, many were successful.”

With a lot of cars still getting five stars, it’s not obvious how much has changed in safety in recent years. Basically, to keep getting top marks from Euro NCAP, the organisation has been asking car companies to steadily increase the scores they get in all areas of the assessment. It has meant improving everything, not just the easy stuff.

The challenge is choosing the right time to do this. The gap between the haves and the have-nots in Europe is widening and buyers want different things: premium cars with more electronic safety features and entry-level vehicles with lower prices. How do you devise a rating scheme that rewards the diligence of Volvo and highlights the lower regard for safety displayed by Dacia?

DACIA_Lodgy_2012_front_crash_damage

Dacia Lodgy was Euro NCAP’s worst rated car of 2012

“We need to keep an eye on both ends of the market for the next phase of Euro NCAP’s development,” says van Ratingen. “We have to promote driver assistance systems for all vehicles. We also need to ensure cheaper cars can’t down-spec crash protection just because they’ve added a camera here or there.”

Over the next four years the organisation will make its established crash tests even more representative. In 2015, Euro NCAP is introducing a full-width test that will encourage manufacturers to fit more intelligent seat belts that adapt to the occupant’s weight and size. It will also start to use a dummy that represents a small female, not just an average male.

In the side impact test, it will update the dummy it uses to one that gives more detailed information on likely injuries and the side airbag’s effectiveness.

This year the organisation is also changing the way that it assesses child safety, using a selection of the most common European child seats, rather than manufacturers’ own recommendations. As soon as we have that list, we’ll share it on Car Safety Rules.

Euro NCAP will also start to award points for cars fitted with “Intelligent Speed Assistance” systems that inform drivers of the local limit. Relatively minor speeding makes up a large proportion of preventable accidents and deaths.

This is really the first step in plans to include and promote driver assistance systems that prevent accidents. The fitment of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems that use radar, lidar or cameras to detect impending collisions will be the main thrust of the strategy.

So far, the organisation has supported these technologies just by granting a Euro NCAP Advanced Award to companies who can substantiate their safety claims.

“There are few opportunities for manufacturers to highlight their advanced safety systems and provide independent corroboration of the fact that the technologies really work,” says van Ratingen. “There is still a lot of potential in this area.” 

Euro NCAP is changing the way that it assesses child safety, using a selection of the most common European child seats, rather than manufacturers’ own recommendations

Further developments are planned for Euro NCAP’s protocols for people vans and pick-up trucks this year. The aim is for safety requirements to come into line with passenger cars for when the organisation starts assessing AEB fitment.

Despite the focus on the latest technologies, Euro NCAP says it will press for better safety for buyers of all budgets. “People shouldn’t expect us to rate only five-star cars with the latest technology,” says van Ratingen. “Looking carefully at the safety of the vehicles that sell for the lowest prices is as important as promoting the best of the best.”

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