Euro NCAP, ADAS and the future of car safety

New legislation, echoing the thinking of Euro NCAP, will soon make more active safety tech mandatory – but some brands don’t think that’s what buyers want. We’ve been investigating...

Cars with ADAS sensors

In recent years, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) have come to play a greater role in tests performed by independent safety body Euro NCAP. While finding out how a given car protects its occupants in a crash continues to be at the core of the independent safety organisation’s work, the focus on systems that reduce the likelihood of such a situation occurring is sharpening.

Euro NCAP incorporated automatic emergency braking (AEB) into its tests in 2014, before further updates in 2020 and 2023 broadened its scope to test a wider range of systems. AEB is now mandatory on new cars following the implementation in 2022 of the EU’s General Safety Regulation (GSR) legislation (which UK cars also comply with), but certain other key ADAS systems aren’t yet a legal requirement, even though they play a large part in the overall safety rating that the organisation awards a car.

In a bid to keep the cost of smaller, more affordable cars down, some brands don’t include active safety features such as lane-keeping assistance (LKA) or driver attention monitoring, either as standard or, in certain cases, even as an optional extra.

Dacia Sandero front cornering

As a result, those models have achieved lower safety scores; for example, Britain's cheapest new car, the Dacia Sandero (above), was awarded just two stars out of five when it was assessed by Euro NCAP in 2021. It was denied a higher score partly because its AEB system is limited to recognising other vehicles, and not pedestrians or cyclists, and also because it’s not offered with lane-keeping assistance.

Likewise, the Dacia Jogger – by far the cheapest seven-seater on sale – received only a one-star safety rating, not only because of its limited array of safety assistance features, but also because it doesn’t have a seatbelt reminder for occupants in its third row of seats.

Dacia’s argument is that, while safety is important to its customers, the latest ADAS features aren’t, and Citroën has recently taken a similar stance. However, their hands are tied; updated legislation will force both brands to include more ADAS tech, and both see that as standing in the way of their value-led focus.

Volkswagen ID 5 autonomous driving readout

The question of customer choice

Dacia’s vice-president of engineering, Marc Suss, believes Euro NCAP scores don’t tell the whole story. “Each time we put a new car on the market, it is the safest Dacia ever,” he said.

However, the brand is intent on not fitting “unwanted or unnecessary features” to its cars, even at the risk of them receiving low Euro NCAP scores. In fact, the omission of such tech now forms a part of Dacia’s ‘Smart Engineering’ strategy, which involves a focus on simplicity, frugality, sustainability and durability.

On the issue of the Jogger’s Euro NCAP score, Suss said: “This is the result of our choices. We did not implement a seatbelt reminder on the third row because when you want to extract the seats, you need to disconnect and reconnect some electronic features. We made the choice to keep it simple for our customers.”

Dacia Jogger interior back seats

More recently, Citroën product and strategy director Laurence Hansen questioned the importance of ADAS and Euro NCAP safety scores. At the launch of the Citroën e-C3 (which could become the cheapest electric car in the UK when it goes on sale in 2024), she said Euro NCAP is “a professional discussion and not a customer discussion” and that Citroën customers “do not care” about the safety scores.

“The number of Euro NCAP stars is not the point,” she said. “The point is that we deliver to customers a car that has the best no-compromise balance between design, comfort, features and affordability. It’s what they want.” However, she also said that despite the fine balance between those areas, “we will not put a car onto the road that is not safe”.

She reiterated Dacia’s point that fitting ADAS systems brings additional cost for customers, and that’s part of the reason why “Citroën is not running after stars”. The e-C3 (below) hasn’t yet been tested by Euro NCAP, but it will be in 2024.

2024 Citroën e-C3 front driving

The way Euro NCAP sees things

Thatcham Research is an automotive risk intelligence specialist, and the lead Euro NCAP member in the UK. Tom Leggett, the organisation’s vehicle technology manager, says the Jogger “isn’t an unsafe car” and meets current regulatory requirements, but the decision to not include certain safety systems as standard is “a decision for Dacia” and that the firm “will invest where it thinks its customers are going to be satisfied”.

He went on to say that it’s generally acknowledged that there are many factors to consider when designing and building a vehicle. “It’s not only got to be safe, but also sustainable, secure and everything in between,” he said.

Responding to the claims by Dacia, Matthew Avery, director of strategic development at Euro NCAP, said “prevention is better than cure”, arguing that a car’s ability to avoid crashes is just as important as how well it protects occupants in the event of a collision.

Kia Sorento with ADAS swerving

“In many collisions, the passive safety capabilities of vehicles are just overwhelmed, regardless of the vehicle you drive. So, if ADAS can mitigate the collision and take the energy out of the crash, that’s going to be a lifesaver.”

On the safety of the Jogger, he said: “Safety is a relative term. The Jogger definitely isn’t as safe as vehicles from other manufacturers from that same year. Compared with a vehicle from 1990, though, it’s probably a lot safer.

“We’re not saying that a three-star car is unsafe. But we are saying that you might want a safer car, or the safest possible car.”

Responding to the argument that ADAS systems add to the cost of cars, Avery said: “We don’t think safety should be optional. You make alloy wheels optional and stereos optional, but you don’t compromise on safety. That should be fundamental. And luckily, we’ve got many manufacturers who are saying, ‘Yeah, we agree’. Safety is standard. That’s our view.”


Regarding Hansen’s comments on safety ratings, Leggett said: “It’s up to the consumer to make an informed decision about the relative safety performance of a vehicle versus others.

“Euro NCAP provides the customer with a choice to compare one vehicle with another. For instance, if you have a family, the child occupant protection will be really important, so the consumer can go on the Euro NCAP website and make sure that the car meets their requirements. It provides consumers with choice and options to make that decision.

“If car manufacturers want to design vehicles that are more budget-orientated but still meet all the safety regulations and those requirements, that’s brilliant. Customer choice is only ever going to be a good thing.”

Metro and Honda Jazz after crash tests

Are we going to be seeing more ADAS systems on new cars?

In short, yes. The GSR legislation is soon to be updated, becoming GSR II (see below for further details), and will require all new cars in the EU to be fitted with a longer list of active safety features than is mandatory under today’s GSR legislation – including features absent in the Sandero that prevented it from receiving a higher Euro NCAP score. By default, most UK-market cars will also have these extra safety features fitted as standard, despite the legislation not directly applying to the UK.

The GSR II legislation – the second and final phase for passenger cars (GSR III will apply only to buses and trucks) – will require all new cars to have these systems fitted as standard from July 2024. This means cars originally launched without these systems – including the Sandero and Jogger – will need to be adapted to comply. Cars that can’t be adapted will have to be withdrawn from sale, as is the case with the Toyota GR86 (below), which will be phased out in Europe in 2024.

In turn, this will inevitably force car prices to rise. With Dacia choosing to omit certain safety equipment in order to make its cars more affordable than their rivals, the new legislation is likely to see the brand’s price advantage narrow.

Toyota GR86 2022 front cornering

The pros and cons of ADAS

As early as 2015, a joint report by Euro NCAP and Australasian NCAP found that low-speed AEB led to a 38% reduction in real-world rear end crashes, and the number of cars fitted with the tech has increased dramatically since then.

More recent research has shown that leaving a lane unintentionally is among the most common causes of a crash, and LKA is instrumental in avoiding that.

However, there’s still some work to do. Some implementations of LKA and intelligent speed assistance (ISA) can be oversensitive and irritating for the driver. For instance, some LKA systems can continually tug at the wheel, while some ISA systems incorrectly read certain road signs, and if a driver finds them annoying, there’s a strong risk that they’ll be switched off.

BMW iX3 steering assist display

“While AEB systems are very rarely turned off, lane support systems are more frequently deactivated,” said Avery. “However, this is down to the brand. Well-implemented ADAS systems don’t lead to this problem.”

As such, Avery confirmed that the annoyance factor of ADAS systems will be integrated into the next update of the Euro NCAP safety tests. He also claimed that we will see huge progress in the functionality of ADAS systems over the next 10 years, and that “the annoyance factor will really, really diminish”.

What do consumers think?

We conducted a survey to find out people’s views on ADAS, and it showed that out of 10,326 participants who have ADAS fitted to their car, 58% have a positive view of the systems and say they feel safer, while 28% feel neutral, with no opinion on ADAS. A much smaller percentage – just 14% – find ADAS irritating or distracting.

Range Rover Sport in autonomous driving mode

Of those who answered ‘Yes’ to the question of whether they have ADAS in their car, 34% said they deliberately switch off those systems, while 47% would be happy to pay less for a car without ADAS. Blindspot monitoring was cited as the most irritating or distracting system, followed by AEB.

In summary

Despite the criticisms of a few brands, it’s clear that Euro NCAP’s focus on ADAS systems isn’t about to change. The organisation’s tests have presaged the technology becoming mandatory, and it seeks to influence its improvement with the aim of making ADAS tech more user-friendly and effective.

However, as more ADAS tech becomes mandatory from July 2024, new car buyers will no longer be able to choose a car without these features with a view to saving money. As with any new technology, though, costs could eventually come down as ADAS systems develop and become cheaper to incorporate over time.

AEB cyclist recognition test

What does GSR II involve?

Mandatory systems will include:

  • Intelligent speed assistance
  • Lane-keeping assistance
  • Automatic emergency braking (already mandatory since 2022)
  • An emergency stop signal
  • Attention warning (in case of driver drowsiness or distraction)
  • A reversing camera or sensors
  • Event data recorders

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