Safer cars are coming soon

safer cars are coming
image courtesy of

It’s that time of year when many peoples thoughts turn to getting a new car. However, if you are keen to buy the safest possible vehicle for you and your family, it may be worth holding off on doing so this year. Why? Because a sweeping range of safety features will be progressively introduced over the next couple of years before becoming mandatory on all new models from mid-2022, and on all new cars from 2024 as a result of recent EU legislation. Although we will have left the EU long before this legislation is introduced Europe-wide, it is almost certain that it will also apply here in the U.K. as well. Indeed, the UK’s Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) has stated that it intends to mirror EU rules post-Brexit. In any event, car-makers are unlikely to want to produce different vehicles specifically for the UK market.

safer cars are coming
image courtesy of the European Transport Safety Council

Some of these systems are already starting to be fitted widely to many cars, such as autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assistance and driver drowsiness warning systems. Where fitted, they have been demonstrated to reduce accidents, to the extent of reducing insurance premiums for cars fitted with them. The wide range of safety features mandated for 2022, however, goes beyond even those presently available on the most safety-oriented models such as those from Volvo.

On-board breathalyser

One such novel requirement will be the ability to easily retrofit an alcohol lock to prevent the vehicle being driven after the driver has been drinking. Despite some press reports to the contrary, the regulations will not mandate the lock itself to be actually fitted. Nevertheless, it is likely that safety-conscious fleet managers, and many others such as car hire companies, will make a point of then fitting alcohol locks, if only to protect their investment.

safer cars are coming
photo courtesy of the European Transport Safety Council

Some countries in fact already mandate such fitments in the cars of people previously prosecuted for driving whilst intoxicated. Systems in use in countries such as Australia and the United States require drivers to provide a clear breath sample via a built-in unit before allowing the engine to start. They can then require additional samples at random intervals to stop drink-drivers from getting a sober friend to provide a sample. In some instances, in-built chips can let the police know when a driver fails a test or if someone has tampered with the machine.

safer cars are coming
image courtesy of the Pennsylvania DIU Association
safer cars are coming
image courtesy of the European Transport Safety Council

Doubtless the need to blow into a mini-breathalyser each and every time you drive, even if it is only for a few hundred yards, could be a real pain. However, around 5,000 people die every year in Europe as a result of drunk driving. In these days where fewer Police patrols are around to spot drunk drivers, it’s therefore hard to see that anyone could honestly argue that the introduction of these systems is not a good thing.

Intelligent Speed Limiters

Another noteworthy requirement is the fitment of ‘intelligent’ speed limiters. These will not allow vehicles to be driven at faster than the prevailing limit on that particular stretch of road, again in the interests of road safety.

safer cars are coming
photo courtesy of the Dundee Evening Telegraph
safer cars are coming
image courtesy of the European Transport Safety Council

These limiters work by using a speed sign-recognition camera and/or GPS-linked speed limit data to advise drivers of the current speed limit and automatically limit the speed of the vehicle as needed. They do not automatically apply the brakes, but simply limit engine power preventing the vehicle from accelerating past the current speed limit unless overridden. The limiters will be capable of being over-ridden in an emergency by extra pressure on the accelerator pedal, accompanied by a driver warning alarm. This override would allow motorists to speed up should circumstances need it.

Dataloggers – Big Brother is watching!

Of themselves, these limiters will not necessarily eliminate deliberate speeding. However, another mandatory safety fitment is a data-logger, which will monitor the vehicle at all times. Such information is vital to understanding why crashes occur and for preventing future collisions. It’s not hard to see that, in this age of ‘big data’, the information from these data-loggers could be fed directly to the Police. This could conceivably result in automatic speeding fines being generated by the car itself! Nevertheless, it is widely recognised that inappropriate speed is a significant factor in collisions, so again it’s hard to object to a system which is intended to enforce better road discipline.

These new features have generally received a warm welcome from industry safety experts. The road safety charity Brake describes the new regulation as the “biggest leap forward for road safety this century”. Joshua Harris, Director of Campaigns at Brake, said: “Drink-driving and speeding are a scourge on our roads and the cause of devastating crashes every day. Mr Harris added that it was “fantastic to hear that alcohol interlock compatibility and speed-limiting technology will soon be mandatory.”

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart, welcomed the move and said that most law-abiding drivers would not be affected by the breathalyser technology. He said: “IAM RoadSmart welcomed these proposals earlier this year so it is great to see they will actually happen. Speed limiters will still be voluntary so you don’t have to use them but they could save your licence.”

Edmund King, President of the AA, said that Intelligent Speed assistance can help motorists from always checking their speedometers, because even when people are religious about sticking to the speed limit, they still face the threat of “smartphone zombies and other unwary road users stepping out in front of them or drunk or distracted drivers crashing into them.”

Mr King cautioned however that, while the new technology plays a part, motorists should not only rely on computers and cameras to drive their cars for them, and until vehicles come with complete self-driving capabilities, people must keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

He said: ‘Features such as lane-keep assistance, autonomous emergency braking, and driver-drowsiness warning systems have the potential to have a very positive effect on the number of accidents.’

As far as alcohol interlocks are concerned, the AA also raised the interesting point that “something is also required to stop drink-drivers from buying or driving vehicles without fitted breathalysers.”

Massive life-saving potential

Whilst some people may complain about all of these features intruding into personal liberty, the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) believe these measures could collectively cut collisions by 30 per cent and save an incredible 25,000 lives across Europe in the next 15 years.

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