Make safety a company car “deal breaker” fleet managers and company car drivers urged

Fleet managers and company car drivers have been urged to make safety “a deal breaker” and and either only select vehicles which have autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard or ask that it be added to the overall purchase price.

The call came from Thatcham Research, the independent voice of automotive safety and repair, advising motorists, insurers and vehicle manufacturers to help reduce accident frequency, severity and costs and to realise the vision of ‘safer cars, fewer crashes’, as it called the Volvo XC60 “one of the safest cars ever made” and “so far ahead of the game”.

What’s more data from Thatcham Research, which undertakes vehicle crash testing for the European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP) highlighted that while standard fitment of AEB on new cars had reached 61%, only three of the 10 best-selling cars in 2017 had the technology as standard across all trim levels.

Furthermore, the UK’s best-selling car, the Ford Fiesta, only offered what Thatcham Research called the “potentially life-saving technology” as an option. The organisation also identified that only 7% of new Ford cars and 14% of new Vauxhall cars – the UK’s two most popular fleet brands – had standard-fit AEB

Thatcham Research calls AEB “probably the most significant development in car safety since the seat belt” and has calculated that it could save “an astonishing” 1,100 lives and 122,860 casualties in the UK over the next 10 years.

So-called semi-autonomous safety technology, which apart from AEB also includes Collision Warning System, Parking Assistance, Overtaking/Blind Spot Sensor, Adaptive Cruise Control and Blind Junction View, was improving road safety with systems mitigating driver errors and preventing crashes now available on almost seven in 10 cars on the market, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Latest data from the SMMT and JATO Dynamics reveals that some 66.8% of new cars were now offered with at least one self-activating safety system, either as standard or as an optional extra.

The SMMT said that, in addition to AEB, Parking Assistance technology, including cameras and sensors, was available as standard or an option on 58.8% of new cars; Overtaking/Blind Spot Sensors were available on 42.1% of new cars, Adaptive Cruise Control on 36.2% of new cars; and drivers were also benefiting from the latest technology, which allowed cars to park themselves in the tightest of spaces, and was now on nearly 250,000 vehicles registered.

The organisation also said that the raft of semi-autonomous safety technology available on new cars would further increase in 2018 with the debut of Traffic Jam Pilot, where, in the right conditions, a car could take over the task of driving in slow moving traffic or queues; and smartphone – or key fob-controlled remote parking.

AEB automatically applies a vehicle’s brakes to avoid or reduce the effects of an impact if a driver fails to act. Some systems only work at lower, urban speeds while others function up to motorway speeds. Real world data showed that AEB was reducing the most common crash type, the rear end collision, by 38%, according to Thatcham Research.

This year the five-door XC60 SUV won the prestigious Safety Award from What Car? magazine and judge and director of research at Thatcham Research Matthew Avery said: “The XC60 achieved a very high adult occupant protection score of 98%, in Euro NCAP’s toughest crash tests ever. But it is also bursting at the seams with safety technology to avoid the crash happening at all. It is so far ahead of the game that its innovative Cross Traffic Alert and Turn Across Path systems are not yet a part of the Euro NCAP programme.”

Cross Traffic Alert uses the same corner sensors as the Blind Spot Warning system. It monitors an approaching vehicle from the side and protects the driver from reversing from a parking space into the path of another vehicle. The systems tend to warn the driver but some actively brake the vehicle to prevent a collision. Meanwhile, Turn Across Path applies a car’s brakes if a driver turns into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

The XC60 is also fitted with a host of pioneering Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) designed to avoid crashes occurring at all and, apart from standard AEB, also features a suite of Lane Support Systems to alert a driver when the car is drifting and actively steer to avoid head-on collisions; Blind Spot Indication Systems; Rear Cross Traffic Alerts; and a Run-Off Road system.

Calling on other manufacturers to follow Volvo’s lead – as well as that of Volkswagen with the T-Roc and Subaru with the XV which were each highly commended by Safety Award judges, Mr Avery said: “Achieving a [top] five-star Euro NCAP rating without standard-fit AEB will be close to impossible for vehicle manufacturers from 2018 onwards.

“Many market AEB as an optional extra but with its potential to save so many lives it is far too important not to be fitted as standard. While Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) accidents affecting occupants are coming down, KSIs involving vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists are on the increase. Protecting people outside of the car, as well as those inside, is clearly important.”

In 2018 2.6 million cars have standard-fit AEB, approximately 6.9% of the 38 million cars on the road today, according to Thatcham Research.

Mr Avery said: “Standard-fitment of AEB is still not at the levels it should be. Jaguar Land Rover is the only carmaker amongst the top 10 best-selling brands to fit AEB on all new models. While standard-fit AEB penetration for Ford, the top selling brand in the UK, stands at just 7% today.”

In calling for AEB to be a “deal breaker”, Mr Avery said: “Drivers can’t rely on manufacturers to deliver AEB on every new car just yet. Until that day comes car buyers should do their research.”

He called on vehicle acquisition decisions to be based on Thatcham Research’s top tips for making safety a “deal breaker”: Make certain a car had a five-star EuroNCAP rating; demand AEB and if it was an option ask for the technology to be fitted as part of the deal or don’t buy; and don’t be fobbed off by manufacturers/dealers “downplaying” the importance of safety systems.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Safety is the number one priority for vehicle manufacturers and the pace of technological change is faster than ever before, with driver assistance technologies now available on the majority of vehicles cars. Fully autonomous cars may still be some way off but millions of drivers are already enjoying the benefits of new technology which can only help make our roads safer.”

The SMMT also identified that manufacturers’ safety innovations had contributed to a reduction of almost 10% in UK road crashes since 2012. What’s more, said the organisation, they were set to fall further as vehicle producers continually strived to develop “ever more sophisticated technology to improve safety and the driver experience”.

AEB standard fitment across the UK’s top 10 best-selling cars 2017 (Thatcham Research data/SMMT sales volume data November 2017)

Car AEB
1. Ford Fiesta Optional
2. Volkswagen Golf Standard
3. Ford Focus Optional on most models
4. Nissan Qashqai Standard on most models
5. Vauxhall Corsa Optional
6. Volkswagen Polo Optional on most models
7. Vauxhall Astra Optional on most models
8. Mercedes C-Class Standard
9. MINI hatchback Optional
10. Mercedes A-Class Standard

Top 10 car brands and current brand standard AEB fitment (Thatcham Research data/SMMT sales volume data December 2017)

Rank Brand % of standard-fit AEB in brand
1. Ford 7%
2. Vauxhall 14%
3. Volkswagen 46%
4. Mercedes-Benz 88%
5. Nissan 30%
6. BMW 23%
7. Audi 16%
8. Toyota 53%
9. Jaguar Land Rover 100%
10. Kia 14%

Further information on AEB is available at www.thatcham.org/car-safety/automatic-braking/

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