Euro NCAP - Raising the Bar for Vehicle and Pedestrian Safety
"In terms of safety, Euro NCAP has made a huge progression. You can see just
from the star ratings on the website that all the OEMs nowadays are going for
five stars and our demands are increasing."
Euro NCAP Technical Manager, Richard Schram, spoke with Automotive IQ editor, Will Hornick, about vehicle dynamics, driver assistance systems, and improving occupant and pedestrian safety systems. He also gave us a glimpse into how Euro NCAP plans on raising the bar for vehicle safety in the coming years.
Automotive IQ: Please describe your background and your role at Euro NCAP
Richard Schram: I’ve done mechanical engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology and then I joined TNO at the safety department where I was responsible for all Euro NCAP activities and then nearly three years ago I moved to Euro NCAP as a technical manager. In this role, I’m mainly working on the development of our protocols, at the moment, chairing the AEB working group that develops the AEB protocols which I will present at the conference.
Automotive IQ: In your opinion how do Euro NCAP tests actually help to improve vehicle dynamics?
R.S.: The principal Euro NCAP tests from the past didn’t do anything on vehicle dynamics. We focused purely on crash safety; we did not address vehicle dynamics and rather addressed purely the crash performance of the vehicles.
Nowadays, with our AEB system protocol and ESC protocols we do affect some of the vehicle dynamics but our focus remains on safety so we don’t specify any improvements to vehicle dynamics because, in terms of background, we don’t have that knowledge in Euro NCAP.
In terms of safety, Euro NCAP has made a huge progression. You can see just from the star ratings on the website that all the OEMs nowadays are going for five stars and our demands are increasing. From next year on, we also have AEB systems included in our assessment and we still expect all the OEMs to go for five stars. In that sense, safety has benefitted highly from Euro NCAP. Our aim is to have the high end technologies from the safety pioneers included in the all of the vehicles.
Automotive IQ: What are some of the most innovative driver assistance systems that you’ve seen that are currently available and what do you think the end user can look forward to in the near future/in the next several years?
R.S.: Since 2009, we’ve been introducing our Euro NCAP Advanced Awards where OEMs can show all the safety systems that are not being assessed by us in the current tests we do and there we see a lot of interesting systems. For example, AEB, lane departure warning, driver attention assist etc. There are a lot of systems coming up. With more and more sensors on the vehicles, in principle, it allows the OEMs to develop a large number of systems using these sensors. Forward-looking sensor systems will only do forward-looking rear-end scenarios, however in the future they will also be able to handle oncoming traffic. When combined with side-looking sensors and you can see the progression that when the sensors are speaking to each other it will give a 360° view around the vehicle and give a vehicle a better safety level. With ultimately complete crash avoidance in the end.
Automotive IQ: Currently these systems are available at a premium level but you expect the technology to filter down from the premium segments?
R.S.: Yes, that is our aim. We expect because of our AEB demands that in the next five years all vehicles including smaller ones and cheaper ones will have these sensors on board. When these sensors are standard in vehicles it’s easier for us to expand the demanded safety systems using these sensors because the hardware is there and it’s basically just software that needs to be developed and implemented.
Automotive IQ: I understand that pedestrian safety has been a part of the safety ratings since 2009. How has this shift in safety focus changed the way manufacturers actually design their vehicles in your view?
R.S.: In the past we had separate ratings for Adult Occupant, Child Occupant and Pedestrian protection We saw that the adult occupant rating was going firmly ahead to a five-star level but there were examples of five-star Euro NCAP cars with zero points on pedestrians. That’s why we decided we needed to change the system as this was unacceptable to us. We made pedestrian safety part of the overall integral rating. With it, our demands on pedestrian safety increased significantly from 2009 to 2012 and we have seen that all the OEMs have followed.
Nowadays you can see, for instance, raised bonnets - more space between the engine and the surface of the bonnet or hood to create deformation space. We see softer windscreens and even external airbags protecting the most hazardous areas. Some OEMs who also offer high performance and therefor large engines, need to have another solution where the hood pops up to create the deformation space required for the proper safety level.
Automotive IQ: Do you see something similar innovations to the pedestrian airbag filtering into other cars in the next few years as well or is that going to just stay in the premium end?
R.S.: I guess for the moment it will be a premium. It also depends on the geometry of the vehicle. You may or may not need this. We mark the car to see where the pedestrians may hit the vehicle and for the larger vehicles a pedestrian probably would not even end up in that area. It depends on geometry for the necessity of having this airbag in order to meet our minimum requirements for safety.
Automotive IQ: Do you see any further improvements in this area to be made over the next several years?
R.S.: The next change in impact pedestrian safety will come from the AEB systems in the end. At the start in 2016 we will still require a high level of passive safety because these systems cannot avoid accidents, they can only reduce the impact speed so we believe there still needs to be a high level of passive safety. But in the end, when these systems evolve and get better and better, we may can start thinking about compensating on passive safety because the AEB systems are reducing the severity so much and very robustly that in the years to come we may allow a trade-off between active and passive.
Automotive IQ: As sensor systems get much better and with some of the semi-autonomous systems coming in, you may actually be able to save weight by removing some of the heavier safety systems that are in place in traditional cars. Though it may be a long time for that…
R.S.: This is something that Euro NCAP will monitor and we’re not against this philosophy, but we keep in mind that as long as these sensors are not 100% bullet proof, accidents will still happen and, of course, in that sense we want to have good protection and we don’t want to compensate yet on this level of passive safety.
Automotive IQ: Can you discuss some of the potential challenges and hurdles that manufacturers are facing in the next couple years and then maybe looking a little further beyond that in terms of safety regulations?
R.S.: In terms of safety regulations, I think the difficulty there for OEMs would be that they are ahead of regulations. For passive safety, in terms of Euro NCAP, we were setting limits and they were living up to it and trying to meet the highest standards. For active safety, it’s a bit the other way around. There are systems on the market already and Euro NCAP has developed test protocols to set the requirements for these systems. That’s not always easy because OEMs have different philosophies. We can’t really decide who is right or wrong because they all have years and years of development experience and a strong philosophy which from their points of view is the correct thing to do. So, in terms of safety regulation within Euro NCAP, we are in close cooperation with the OEMs to learn from them why they have made certain decisions to develop the systems in the way they have.
Automotive IQ: There are many different ways of achieving safety.
R.S.: Yes, absolutely.
Automotive IQ: Can you give us a hint of how Euro NCAP plans to continue raising the bar in some of these areas that maybe you’re developing now?
R.S.: Yes, we have a roadmap which runs up to 2015 where, again, AEB is one of the big items and a big step forward for Euro NCAP’s active safety. That is the area we focus on. Due to the high investment for the laboratories we use, but also for the OEMs in terms of better safety, we will do the last improvement on passive safety in 2015 where we change the dominant procedures on front and side impact. We think that that’s about what we can do in terms of cost-benefit in passive safety so then we will really start focussing on active safety procedures to see where we can speed up the improvement in safety. We are developing a new roadmap for 2016 to 2020 and expect this to be ready at the end of this year. I can’t really say a lot about that yet, but it will be very, very active safety focused.
This is part 1 of a 2 part series.