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

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