In short, ADAS systems means safer roads. As mentioned on the ‘What is ADAS’ page, the role of ADAS is to reduce road deaths and injuries by cutting the number of road accidents overall and reducing the severity of those that can’t be avoided. A number of studies have already gone some way to proving the efficacy of ADAS systems in real-world driving situations, and the general consensus, both within the automotive industry and in wider legislative circles, is that the technology should be promoted and adopted on as broad a scale as possible – and sooner rather than later.
A 2017 report by wholesale insurance provider Swiss Re looked at accident statistics provided by the UK’s Department for Transport. It concluded that a hypothetical (and admittedly unrealistic) 100% adoption of forward collision warning, blind spot detection and lane departure warning by 2020 would reduce motorway accidents by 16.3% and accidents on other roads by 11.6%. Factoring in more sophisticated systems such as lane-keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, night vision and multi-feature packages of combined ADAS functions, these figures rose to a 45.4% accident reduction on motorways and a 27.5% reduction on other roads.
More realistically, and taking into account the projected real-world uptake of ADAS packages that remain, for now, relatively expensive options or standard only on more costly premium models, Swiss Re concluded that an overall accident reduction of 4.3% could be expected by 2020.
While Swiss Re’s figures are based on reported accidents, i.e. those involving deaths or serious injuries, other studies have looked at insurance claim data, which includes minor accidents that result in damage to vehicles but not necessarily any harm to occupants, pedestrians or other road users. A study by the Swedish car maker Volvo, in co-operation with insurers If and Volvia, looked at the effectiveness of the manufacturer’s ‘City Safety’ autonomous emergency braking system, which has been offered as an option since 2006 and fitted standard on all new Volvos since 2008. It was concluded that cars fitted with City Safety were involved in 28% fewer accidents.
The evidence of ADAS’s effectiveness is so irrevocable that many functions have become mandatory on new cars sold in various regions around the world. Euro NCAP has embraced ADAS and it continues to adapt its assessment procedures to address the growing number of systems and technologies. Indeed, Euro NCAP’s championing of occupant and pedestrian protection over the past couple of decades has led to widespread consumer awareness of the benefits of safer cars. It’s expected that Euro NCAP and its testing and rating system will play a similar role in promoting ADAS and its industry-wide adoption.
It is already the case that Euro NCAP’s ‘safety assist’ tests assess forward collision warning/autonomous emergency braking systems (in various scenarios), as well as lane departure warning systems, lane-keep assist systems and speed assist systems, and it includes ratings for these functions in its overall assessment of new cars. By doing so, the models with more standard ADAS equipment, providing it performs appropriately, will inevitably climb higher in Euro NCAP’s rankings, pushing less well-equipped models further down the scale. And as has already been seen with the occupant and pedestrian protection measures that have become commonplace, other manufacturers will inevitably follow suit by adopting the new technology. It shouldn’t be underestimated how effective this consumer-facing programme has been both in improving vehicle safety and raising consumer awareness of available new technologies, and ADAS is expected to benefit similarly with accelerated uptake over the coming few years. On 1st October 2020, Euro NCAP launched Assisted Driving Grading. The evaluation is intended to help consumers compare assistance performance.
As mentioned earlier, several ADAS functions are already mandatory on new vehicles in various regions around the world, with others set to become so in the near future. ABS has been mandatory on all new vehicles sold in the European Union since 2004, and electronic stability control became mandatory in the region in 2014, such are the proven benefits of the two systems. Autonomous emergency braking, meanwhile, has been mandatory on all commercial vehicles sold in the EU since 2015, while rear-facing or reversing cameras with a dashboard display screen have been mandatory on all new cars sold in the United States since May 2018.
Also in May 2018 the European Commission published a list of 11 new safety features it wants mandated on new cars by 2021. The list includes several existing ADAS functions, specifically autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, intelligent speed assistance system and a reversing camera/rear detection system.
For all of ADAS’s benefits, however a caveat should be made. While ADAS development is advancing all the time, it is the self-driving or autonomous cars of the future that are proving particularly adept at making news headlines. This has led some quarters of the industry to call for a clearer differentiation between advanced driver assistance systems and fully autonomous cars. Thatcham Research, the UK automotive insurance industry’s research organisation which also carries out the Euro NCAP crash tests on new models, believes this has led to a degree of public confusion about ADAS, and it is concerned that some drivers believe their new cars have autonomous capability when that is not the case.
In the United States, the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety (IIHS) has echoed Thatcham’s concerns. In a report assessing the various ADAS functions of a number of current production models, IIHS chief research officer David Zuby said: “Designers are struggling with trade-offs inherent in automated assistance. If they limit functionality to keep drivers engaged, they risk a backlash that the systems are too rudimentary. If the systems seem too capable, then drivers may not give them the attention required to use them safely.”
It’s important, then, that consumer awareness of the benefits of ADAS increases in order to accelerate the uptake of what are for now, in many cases, only optional safety systems. But it is equally important that the message about what ADAS can’t do, as well as what it can, is put across clearly and not lost among marketing claims. There is an obvious pathway leading from today’s ongoing ADAS developments to the fully autonomous cars of tomorrow, but as far as ADAS is concerned for the time being, the operative word here is ‘assistance’: in all cases, at all times and no matter what the level of assistance, the driver remains not only in overall control but also responsible for what the vehicle does.
This article is part of the ‘What is ADAS?‘ series.