After the sheer ignorant drivel, clickbait headlines and hype being bandied around today by the BBC, ITV, Daily Mirror and many other mainstream media outlets, it’s refreshing to have some calm, reasoned analysis of the truth behind the EU draft proposals on ISA semi-autonomous car technology.
Yes, drivers will be able to speed above the posted limit after 2022, and no, cars will not magically slam their brakes on when the camera on-board spots a 30mph sign. Here’s the latest from Thatcham and the RAC for you.
The European Union has provisionally approved new laws to make a raft of driver assistance systems compulsory on all new cars from 2022.
Although several technologies are to be mandated, including Autonomous Emergency Braking, Electronic Lane Keeping and driver distraction warnings, media focus has been on Intelligent Speed Assistance systems.
Matthew Avery, leading car safety expert and Director of Insurance Research at Thatcham Research comments, “Excessive or inappropriate speed is a factor in the causation and severity of many road accidents. In the UK, 15% of all fatalities are related to excessive or inappropriate speeding. Limits are intended to keep traffic speeds at an appropriate level for a given environment, ensuring the safety of motorists and other road users. Greater adherence to speed limits would avert many accidents and mitigate the effects of those that do occur.
“Many drivers want to remain safe and drive within the law, however they can find identifying when to change from one speed limit to another difficult and distracting. In this respect, Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) systems will help to keep drivers safe and legal.
“Euro NCAP has tested manual speed limiters since 2009 and has long promoted their fitment to new cars. In fact, many new cars already have ISA as standard such as the new Ford Focus and Nissan LEAF. In 2018 manually set ISA systems became a requirement as part of the five-star Euro NCAP rating for safety. 75% of Euro NCAP vehicles tested that year had ISA systems fitted.”
There are limitations to current ISA systems however, warns Avery, “Speed signs can often be obscured or inaccurate, while GPS mapping can be out of date. Temporary limits and road works can confuse the system too.”
“There could also be a danger that drivers ‘adapt’ to the system – and come to over-rely on it, planting their throttle to the floor in the expectation that the car will control the speed. This could be a distraction danger and lead to speeding fines if the system is not picking up the limit correctly. And drivers will still be liable, whether they were relying on the system or not. (Interesting legal test case/precedent right there – Ed)
“If the benefits of ISA systems are to be fully realised, consumers must be well educated to instil confidence around safe and proper usage.”
What are ISA systems?
Intelligent Speed Assistance systems use GPS mapping and actively read speed signs informing the driver of the present limit. They can issue a warning to the driver when the car’s speed is above the set threshold and can actively prevent the car from exceeding or maintaining the set speed. They can also advise the driver of upcoming limits.
Avery continues, “It’s important to clarify that the EU legislation proposes that the systems should be overridable, allowing the driver to accelerate beyond the limit if required to do so.”
The legislation also suggests that the systems should also be ‘default on’, manually cancellable and recycle on the ignition cycle, meaning the system resets to the ‘default on’ setting every time the car is restarted.
‘The most important car safety innovation since the seatbelt’
Much of the media coverage has focused on ISA, but if finally approved the laws will also make Autonomous Emergency Braking technology compulsory.
“History will come to recognise AEB as the most important car safety innovation since the seatbelt,” comments Avery. “Achieving a five-star Euro NCAP rating today without AEB fitted as standard is essentially impossible.”
RAC road safety spokesperson Pete Williams said: “Improving road safety is vital as too many lives are lost or ruined every year as a result of accidents on our roads.
“As we progress on the journey to self-driving cars it is important to take advantage of all the associated technological developments to take safety to the next level, particularly as road casualty statistics appear to have stopped falling in recent years.
“Limiting speed may initially sound somewhat Big Brother-like, but as it stands the intention is for the technology to be overridable in certain situations – for example by pressing hard on the accelerator to complete an over-taking manoeuvre. In addition, vehicles will not brake automatically when going from a faster to a slower speed limit, meaning it will still be down to the driver to brake appropriately.
“But as the limiters can be overridden it naturally begs the question whether some drivers will do this regularly to bypass the system, potentially undermining some of the system’s benefits.
“But just because a vehicle’s speed is limited doesn’t mean that drivers can accelerate as fast as they like up to the limit they are in. We should always drive at the right speed for the conditions, whether that’s due to traffic, bad weather or other hazards.
“While there is much talk in these proposals about speed limiters, the greatest benefit may well be in technology that can prevent distractions and improve drivers’ concentration as this could massively improve road safety.”