A problem, if you can call it that, for car safety testing is that automakers are going above and beyond governmental safety requirements. While car crash testing has been going on for decades and refined to match real world conditions for more accurate crash test ratings, new safety equipment has been developed and touted by manufacturers as enhancing safety.
However, the “star” ratings given for collision safety do not address the effectiveness, for example, of systems such as Volvo’s “City Safety,” which debuted the world’s first pedestrian-sensing automatic-braking (autonomous emergency braking system, or AEB, in engineer terminology) in 2011. Since then technology has developed rapidly and systems using both radar and optical sensing to identify pedestrians have become available from many manufacturers, both as standard and as optional equipment.
Until now there has been no independent testing of the systems, so that organizations—and customers—are unable to evaluate the systems, both individually and against competing manufacturers, or even for consumers to decide whether an optional extra-cost safety package is worthwhile.
Recognizing this, the European Union’s auto safety testing organization NCAP, established a test to determine how well the systems work. The agency developed a test dummy—actually two, one an adult and the other a child—that could imitate a walking person, with a vertical torso and swinging legs, that “walked” into the path of a moving vehicle. The test would determine whether the car was able to stop before hitting the pedestrian.
Based on the results of the test, a second safety rating in addition to the primary collision rating may be issued to manufacturers requesting it for cars equipped with the optional “safety pack.” The dual rating, says Euro NCAP, “allows consumers to easily understand the safety benefit which can be achieved by the additional crash avoidance equipment offered.”
Said Dr. Michiel van Ratingen, Euro NCAP secretary general, “The inclusion of AEB Pedestrian in the rating is a key milestone in the development of automotive safety that will help the proliferation of the crash avoidance technology into all segments of the market. At the same time, to provide accurate and clear information to consumers about the latest systems and what benefit they might bring, is becoming more challenging. The dual rating will simplify the choice for the safest car.”
Two tests, which are voluntary for manufacturers, have been performed so far, resulting in a five-star rating for the Toyota Prius. The Suzuki Baleno was the first vehicle to be assessed under the new dual rating. It earned a three-star rating with standard equipment, but with its optional safety pack ‘Radar Brake Support’ which includes an AEB City and AEB Inter-Urban system, the Baleno achieved four stars.