Driving aids under scrutiny by EuroNCAP
The EuroNCAP testing institute has announced the results of the second series of so-called Highway Assist tests. The tests of driving aids (Level 2) show that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes are scoring well, as does the Ford Kuga. Others, like Tesla, perform less because their system doesn’t pay enough attention to the driver’s involvement.
To ensure the safe adoption of these and other assisted driving technologies by consumers, Euro NCAP has developed a dedicated test and assessment protocol, and a grading system.
Euro NCAP’s new assessment protocols focus on two main areas: Assistance Competence – a balance between the technical competencies of the system (Vehicle Assistance), and the extent to which it keeps the driver alert and engaged (Driver Engagement) – and Safety Backup, the car’s safety net in critical situations.
A grading system similar to the five-star safety rating helps consumers understand the conclusions of the tests and compare assistance performance at the highest level. Each car falls into one of four categories: Entry, Moderate, Good, and Very Good.
Premium German brands score best
Three cars in the premium segment – the Audi Q8, the BMW 3 Series, and the Mercedes GLE – are graded ‘Very Good’, achieving a good balance between offering a high level of driving assistance but keeping the driver engaged and in control of the driving task.
According to EuroNCAP, “they also provide a good crash avoidance backup system and respond appropriately if the driver becomes incapacitated while the car is in assistance mode.”
Tesla’s Autopilot has flaws
About the results of Tesla EuroNCAP is mitigated: “Tesla’s pioneering role in self-driving technology is reflected in its top scores for Vehicle Assistance and Safety Backup. However, its ‘Autopilot’ system does little to keep the driver engaged.”
“Its distinct steering strategy gives the impression that either the car is driving itself or the driver has full control, and the system is more authoritarian than cooperative. Grading-wise, the car is badly let down by its performance in Driver Engagement and ends up ranked ‘Moderate’.”
EuroNCAP is nevertheless closing the Tesla paragraph with a laudation: “On the upside, Tesla offers over-the-air updates and can rapidly introduce performance improvements, as they have shown to be doing in recent years.”
Ford Kuga distinctive
The Volkswagen Passat, the Nissan Juke, and the Volvo V60 were also graded as Moderate. In particular, the Volvo, already on the market for a few years, shows that rapid advancements made in driving assistance technology require more frequent updates to keep up with premium cars.
Finally, the Kuga achieves a ‘Good’ grading, demonstrating that well-balanced, advanced systems are now also available on mainstream mid-class vehicles.
High volume sellers, like the Renault Clio and Peugeot 2008, were both given an ‘Entry’ grade. Lacking the sophistication of the more advanced systems tested, they provide a relatively modest level of assistance, ensuring that the driver is not disengaged from the driving task.
Driver Engagement remains key factor
Dr. Michiel van Ratingen, the current secretary-general at EuroNCAP, once again stresses the importance that the driver stays in control with these driving aids commonly categorized as Level 2.
“Assisted driving technologies offer enormous benefits by reducing fatigue and encouraging safe driving,” van Ratingen states. “However, manufacturers must ensure that assisted driving technology does not increase the amount of harm incurred by drivers or other road users compared to conventional driving.”
“The best systems offer a balance between the amount of assistance they provide and the level of driver engagement – and should be supported by an effective safety backup,” he adds.
And he concludes with a warning for drivers not to rely too much on the systems yet: “The results of this round of tests demonstrate that driving assistance is fast becoming better and more readily available, but until driver monitoring is significantly improved, the driver needs to remain responsible at all times.”