World’s first tests of assisted safety systems: results revealed

Ten of the latest models have been put to the test to see how well they support drivers and prevent collisions...

Assisted driving tests

The capabilities and performance of the latest assisted driving technology are now being scrutinised and rated by Thatcham Research as part of its work with Euro NCAP. 

Assisted driving systems are partly intended to increase comfort, easing the driver's work load by keeping the car in its lane and maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front on motorways. These actions help to prevent tiredness on long journeys, while monitors act to alert the driver if they become inattentive to the road and can take emergency action to prevent an accident if necessary. 

Because the focus of these systems is slightly different from other active safety systems, Euro NCAP has created a separate rating for them by placing three key components under scrutiny:

1. Vehicle assistance

How effective the steering assistance and active cruise control systems are in controlling the car’s steering and speed.   

2. Driver engagement

The accuracy and content of the car maker’s promotional material, and how usefully the car monitors whether the driver is engaged in the driving process. Here, how easy it is for the driver to interact with the system is considered, as is how clearly the system confirms whether it’s in charge of driving or not. 

3. Safety back-up

This component considers how well the system protects in the event of an imminent collision caused by either a system failure or the driver being too unwell to drive. Can the system avert a collision with another vehicle and if necessary slow the car down and stop it in a safe place? 

The scores from each of these components are collated into an overall rating. A model is rated as Very Good if it gains 80% or more; Good if it gains 70-79%; Moderate if it scores 60-69%; and Entry (basic) if it gains between 50 and 59%. 

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham, explained that the key to gaining the highest score is strong performance in all three categories. “The best systems strike a good balance between the amount of assistance they give to the driver and how much they do to ensure drivers are engaged and aware of their responsibilities behind the wheel,” he said. 

Assisted driving tests

The first batch of 10 cars have been put through the new tests. The latest Mercedes GLE scored the highest, followed closely by the BMW 3 Series. Both of these vehicles are equipped with camera and radar technology that is very good at recognising road markings and other vehicles and road users. 

Although the Tesla Model 3 has numerous cameras and other sensors, too, it was heavily penalised for driver engagement because its systems automatically disengage if the driver touches the steering wheel, accelerator or brakes, rather than allowing the driver some input while assistance continues. This arrangement was felt to actively discourage drivers to share control while using the assistance systems. 

Assisted driving tests

Tesla was also criticised for “over selling what its AutoPilot system is capable of”, but its use of over the air updates to upgrade the safety systems of existing cars was praised. 

Two systems that are fitted as standard to two small cars: the Renault Clio and Peugeot 2008, were also tested. While the French car makers were applauded for including effective systems in such affordable models, the cars didn’t perform well in the Safety back-up tests. This was because they don’t have sophisticated emergency assistance systems to prevent collisions.  

Rank Make and model Vehicle assistance Driver engagement Safety back-up Score
1. Mercedes GLE 86 85 89 87%
2.  BMW 3 Series 82 83 90 86% 
3.  Audi Q8 83 78 84 81%
4.  Ford Kuga 66 73 86 76%
5. VW Passat 76 79 61 68%
6. Tesla Model 3 91 36 95 65%
7. Nissan Juke 52 70 72 62%
8. Volvo V60 71 78 49 60%
9. Renault Clio 62 69 43 52%
10. Peugeot 2008 61 74 40 50%

Assisted driving systems are important because they are the first step towards truly autonomous driving.

The Government is currently consulting about another step towards automated driving from 2021 – the introduction of all-lane keeping assistance systems (ALKS), which will be capable of taking over the driving in limited circumstances. 

While Thatcham Research and Euro NCAP acknowledge the potential safety benefits of automated driving technology, they believe its introduction needs to be graduated to ensure the safety of all road users. 

“Our assessments highlight that, while today’s driver-assist systems can support the driver, they are not capable of, nor designed to, take complete control in all critical situations,” commented Avery. 

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