European New Car Assessment Program
In 2009, we at Euro NCAP released a strategic “road map” for updating European safety standards and consumer testing protocols. As we have implemented the changes outlined in that road map, the auto industry has had a harder time earning five-star vehicle ratings.
The reasons behind our road map were quite simple. In Europe, we had seen a significant increase in the safety of vehicles – to the point where our standards were beginning to fall behind what the automakers were delivering. Consumers and insurance companies told us it appeared to be too easy to receive high ratings. Moreover, we weren’t making any distinction between cars that had new accident avoidance technologies and those that did not. The updated standards, therefore, make it more difficult to achieve five stars while also taking the newer technologies into account.
And, these higher standards have delivered better safety for consumers. One example is in the area of pedestrian safety. In our updated ratings system, the score for pedestrian safety was integrated into the overall star rating, so companies began to pay more attention to it. As a result, we have seen significantly better performance in this area since 2009 than previously.
For the next five years, we will continue to update our tests to keep pace with technology. But we do not anticipate updating at the same rapid pace.
Part of our job at Euro NCAP is to educate consumers about our ratings system and what it means. That’s not simple, because safety is not as sexy a topic as it was 15 years ago. Consumers, today, take safety as a given. In Europe, North America and Japan, in particular, we are spoiled by extremely safe and well-engineered vehicles. So, we work hard to keep safety front-of-mind for consumers, so they continue to consider it in their vehicle purchases.
While our focus is Europe, we have also been supporting Global NCAP and their efforts to bring NCAPs to other regions of the world. The NCAP systems in the developing world, in particular, can’t be exactly as they are in the developed world, because the vehicles and technologies currently offered in those countries are not the same. But we do try to provide the regional programs with technical support, as appropriate.
Going forward, we believe that automakers with a global footprint should be bringing their vehicle safety best practices to other regions more quickly. About one-third of vehicles produced globally today would not meet the most basic frontal crash tests. That needs to change.
In Europe, making continued safety progress is a very different issue. The low-hanging fruit is gone. What’s left is harder to identify, and the costs and benefits are not as clear. We need to focus on smaller topics – such as addressing challenges for aging drivers – in order to make further advancements in safety. We know we will also see more accident avoidance and driver assistance technologies on vehicles. We are confident that automated driving (or partly automated driving) will come to Europe in the next few years.
I want to make clear that our intention is not to put a big burden on the automotive industry. Safety has many aspects (including, for instance, road infrastructure), and automakers can’t address all of them. We know we need to have a continuing dialogue with companies such as Ford about what’s realistic and feasible, particularly given the difficult economic times we are experiencing in Europe.
One issue that adds to the burden on car companies is a lack of alignment among all the standards, including those of the various NCAPs and those of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States. We all have plans to further develop our standards, and not in the same way. I don’t want to see us make the mistake of instituting completely different tests – especially for the new accident avoidance technologies. We should be able to agree on a set of tests for autonomous braking, for example. We have been working on this with the other rating organizations, and we will continue to do so.