Euro NCAP makes big changes to crash testing


The European Car Assessment Programme was founded in 1997 as a Europe wide car safety programme by the Transport Research Laboratory for the UK Department for Transport alongside the endorsement and support of several European governments and the European Union.  Euro NCAP recognises and rewards car manufacturers who develop new safety technologies which can scientifically demonstrate a benefit for motorists and wider society.  Euro NCAP provides the consumer with information about the safety of new cars.

Now Euro NCAP is introducing a new series of tests for new cars in 2020 and one of the most significant of these is the offset head-on collision test which has remained unchanged since 1997.  This is part of NCAP’s stated remit to “address long-standing needs in occupant protection, improve post-crash protection and promote the latest advance driver assistance technology.”

The new head-on collision test will involve a vehicle hitting a moving barrier rather than a static barrier which has always previously been the case.  The change is to examine the impact on both the vehicle and what it hits and is aimed at helping motor manufacturers of large vehicles to understand and share some of the responsibility for the consequences of a collision between a large car and a smaller car.

Large cars and SUVs offer very good protection for their occupants but if you are on the receiving end of an impact from one of these and are travelling in a smaller vehicle then you may not fare so well.  Penalties will be imposed on the larger vehicle it if remains too rigid in the impact which will have a corresponding and adverse impact on the smaller vehicle in the accident.

Also due for an upgrade is the side impact test.  Side impact crashes have the second-highest rate of death or serious injury amongst car occupants.  The speed of impact is being increased with measurements taken to assess the severity of impact on both the driver and front-seat passenger whereas previously these tests were focused solely on the passenger.  The performance of airbags in the centre of the driving compartment will also be reviewed as typically, in these types of crash, all the occupants of the car are thrown around, both into one another and into different parts of the car structure.

Each new car model is given a Euro NCAP rating safety score and two new active safety systems are going to be added to the testing menu with the results included as part of the car’s overall star rating.  These include the following as advised by Uk Show Plates:

  • The turn across path test which aims to assess the AEB system applying the car’s brakes if it is about to leave a junction and is likely to be struck either by a vehicle coming towards it or if there is a vulnerable road user such as a pedestrian or a cyclist in the driver’s blindspot
  • Reversing automatic braking systems which are designed to apply the brakes and stop the car hitting another vehicle or a vulnerable road user in a car park scenario

Also new to the NCAP table is the assessment and testing of driver monitoring systems, for example, those used to test driver distraction and fatigue and which alert a driver who has failed to look at the road for a certain period of time.  And another innovation is the introduction of ratings for the quantity and quality of information the manufacturer makes available to assist emergency services who are trying to release occupants from a crashed vehicle.

Since 2018, NCAP has tested 69 models of new cars and 52 of these have earned the full five-star safety rating.  Crash testing conducted by Euro NCAP over the last two decades has helped to halve the number of people killed on UK roads which in reality means 15,000 lives saved.  Before Euro NCAP came on the scene, the situation with regard to car safety was horrifyingly different.  Euro NCAP has been the driving force in persuading manufacturers to focus on road safety.  The figures reveal the change in deaths and casualty numbers and speak volumes.

In 1997, 3,599 people were killed on the roads with more than 40,000 injured.  In 2015, death numbers reached 1,732 with only 22,000 serious injuries, an impressive reduction.  Pre Euro NCAP, motorists were reliant on the safety development and individual crash testing programmes that each manufacturer had in place and these varied enormously.  By providing independent, third-party testing, manufacturers were soon keen not to be seen as way down in the rankings and wanted their new cars right up there with the highest safety ratings.  The element of competition and comparison has helped enormously to drive up safety standards.

Testing was initially organised by the British and the Swedish governments working together who collectively devised the first crash testing programme aimed at informing consumers and driving up safety standards.  Seven small and popular hatchbacks were chosen as the first crash test guinea pigs and the first crash test implemented was the head-on collision test with both vehicles travelling at 40mph.  The results were published in February 1997 and were pretty horrifying even with rudimentary early airbags in some of the cars.  It worked – the Rover 100 was withdrawn from sale because so many people were put off buying it by the crash test results.

Car manufacturers did hit back describing the testing as unfair and maintaining that it would be impossible for any car to achieve a four-star rating never mind the top award of five stars.  But later that year, Volvo, the pioneer of road safety, achieved a rating of four stars for the V40 and then in 2001, the Renault Laguna made it to the top award of five stars.  Now, there are in excess of fifty vehicles currently on the road which have achieved the top five-star rating and some manufacturers would like the five stars to appear as a logo on the number plate.  Healthy competition for consumer interest has driven road safety forward in leaps and bounds supported by an independent crash testing body to act as the arbitrator for fair play and accurate safety claims.

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