NCAP adds assistance rating
Driver assistance technologies are given a score based on a wide variety of factors
Thatcham Research and Euro NCAP have jointly launched a new grading system for driver assistance systems to reduce confusion over their abilities.
The Assisted Driving Grading supplements Euro NCAP’S traditional crash-test-based star rating system, providing scores for the effectiveness of the driver assistance tech on offer in a car, its ability to keep the driver engaged in the process of driving and its performance in an emergency.
The safety bodies will also consider the way the systems are marketed by each manufacturer, determining if they encourage the driver to put too much faith in them.
“The systems that are currently allowed on our roads are there to assist the driver but don’t replace them,” said Thatcham’s director of research, Matthew Avery.
“Unfortunately, there are motorists who believe they can purchase a self-driving car today. This is a dangerous misconception that sees too much control handed to vehicles that aren’t ready to cope with all situations.”
Avery also claimed that legislators, insurers and car makers can’t move to the next step of automated driving if the capability of assisted driving tech isn’t understood clearly.
The Assisted Driving Grading uses a sliding points scale across multiple categories, with 200 points available. The points awarded in testing put each car into one of five categories: Not Recommended (fewer than 100 points), Entry (between 100 and 120), Moderate (more than 120), Good (more than 140) and Very Good (160 or more).
The first batch of 10 results to be issued includes the latest Renault Clio (awarded an Entry rating as an effective but basic system), the Tesla Model 3 (given a Moderate score as it was criticised for reduced driver engagement and “confusing” marketing material) and the Mercedes-benz GLE, which achieved the highest rating of the cars tested so far.
“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,” said Avery. “When performing at their best, the systems can both reduce fatigue and keep the driver out of trouble.”
Autocar attended a demonstration at Thatcham’s test track to sample a few of the methods used to test the systems. With Avery in the passenger seat, we went out first in a BMW 3 Series (one of the highest-rated models to date) and then a Model 3, illustrating the differences in the systems at a broadly similar price-and-size point.
One test was a traditional scenario in which the car has to react to a stationary vehicle in front with no driver input. Both systems worked well, with the Tesla in particular gently braking well in advance and slowing smoothly to a stop.
More interesting was the pothole avoidance test. A cone is placed within the car’s lane and, while the lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control functions are active, the driver has to quickly regain control and steer around it.
When approaching the cone in the BMW at 50mph, we were able to easily apply steering inputs without resistance from the lane-keeping system, and it quickly reactivated on our return to the lane. In the Tesla, however, real effort was required to break the system’s set steering angle, whereby it fully deactivates with a series of warnings.
Avery said: “The BMW’S feels far more like a support system interacting with the driver, whereas the Tesla’s system, despite being very capable, actively discourages drivers from engaging from behind the wheel.
“The BMW very quickly brings the driver back into the loop [if they keep their hands off the wheel] and makes it clear what the driver should be doing. There’s never a situation where it feels like the car is doing all the driving and you aren’t, unlike [with] the Tesla.”
The other reason Tesla’s system isn’t among the highest graded concerns the promotional material. “Tesla’s system name Autopilot is inappropriate as it suggests full automation,” NCAP states in its test report. A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment on the report.
From this month, an Assisted Driving Grading will be provided on every new car that features steering, throttle and braking assistance. Thatcham and Euro NCAP hope it will bring clarity to the public as well as help towards the UK government’s intention to legalise handsoff Automated Lane Keeping Systems on motorways in 2021.
❝ When performing at their best, the systems can both reduce fatigue and keep the driver out of trouble ❞
Autocar’s Allan met Thatcham’s Avery (right) Tests are conducted on private roads using props and dummy cars
Tesla tech was too resistant to driver’s steering