New car safety assessment becomes more stringent

| Transport

Mobile progressive deformable barrier test sets new automotive safety standard

The European New Car Assessment Programme introduces new crash test equipment, more advanced dummies and a higher focus on ADAS.

As the automotive industry goes through a series of fundamental changes that affect emissions, control and safety, the assessment processes and testing procedures are similarly undergoing significant churn to ensure their continuing validity.

The global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) organisations test vehicle crashworthiness and assign scores from zero to five stars to each model they test to provide consumers with insight into the vehicle safety with regards to occupants, pedestrians and the extent to which the car provides assistance to the driver.

The NCAPs have always worked to a set of moving goalposts, constantly revising the thresholds that need to be met in order to gain each individual star rating. Each year, the threshold levels raise and so at any moment, it is highly unlikely that a car, which achieved a 5 star rating 5 years ago would achieve the same rating today.

Biggest change in a decade

Now, the European testing boday (Euro NCAP) is introducing a series of entirely new tests, which it describes as the biggest overhaul in its testing programme for a decade.

Any vehicle launched in 2020 will undergo the new tests later this year, which Euro NCAP said have been introduced to address long-standing needs in occupant protection, improve post-crash protection and promote the latest advanced driver assistance technology.

The Thatcham Research test house in the UK is a key element of Euro NCAP’s testing capabilities and board member Matthew Avery, who is also the director of research at Thatcham, describes the new test regime as a new yardstick that vehicles will be measured against and one that has long been in the planning as part of the Euro NCAP 2025 roadmap.

“These are the biggest changes to Euro NCAP’s impact testing protocols in a decade. Chief among them is the new ‘compatibility’ impact test. For the first time there will be two moving elements to the head on collision: the test vehicle and barrier. Most importantly we will not only look at the intrusion occurring to the vehicle being tested, but also to the new Mobile Progressive Deformable Barrier,” he says.

The objective is to encourage makers of larger vehicles to share some of the burden of the impact with smaller vehicles. Historically SUVs and other big cars have offered very good protection to their occupants but sometimes to the detriment of the occupants of the other vehice.

“In the new compatibility test, if the larger vehicle is too stiff in an impact scenario, it will be penalised accordingly. This levels the playing field for all vehicle sizes, which is a win-win for road safety,” continues Avery.

Dummy Upgrade

The long suffering and iconic crash test dummy has also undergone some changes to bring it up to date with the latest in sensor technology and medical fidelity. The new mid-sized dummy is called THOR and is the most advanced the test organisation has worked with.

The use of THOR makes the testing more of a challenge to car makers because it more closely resembles a real human, according to Avery.

“The previous dummy we used was designed for impact scenarios that are less common today, while the THOR dummy is far more complex and sensitive and can record abdominal injuries,” he says.

This means that car interior designs need to take into account their potential for causing a wider range of injuries and how to mitigate them.

Side Impact

Side impact protection on new cars has saved countless lives and the technology is continuing to evolve to provide even greater protection, something which Euro NCAP will evaluate with another new test at the organisation.

Currently, occupants in the car on the side where the impact occurs obtain the greatest level of protection but Thatcham wants to assess what happens on the side of the vehicle furthest away from the impact and to drive car manufacturers to compartmentalise occupant protection within the vehicle.

“In side impacts, all vehicle occupants can be knocked around dramatically – not only into one another but also into the vehicle structures. The performance of airbags installed into centre compartments to mitigate this effect will now be assessed within the programme,” says Avery.

Autonomous Emergency Braking

Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) are already catered for within the Euro NCAP tests but this is one area of automotive technology that’s constantly evolving so all the NCAPs have new ADAS features within their roadmap to address more aspects of crash avoidance rather than mitigation.

Now, Euro NCAP has included an additional ADAS test involving Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) in two specific previously untested aspects – Turn Across Path and Reverse Parking.

According to Avery, the Turn Across Path test looks to prevent collisions with vulnerable road users and other vehicles at junctions whilst the reverse parking test seeks to avoid the tragic consequences of an unseen child or elderly person passing by the rear of a reversing vehicle.

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