All new cars sold in the UK will be fitted with speed limiters from 2022, following an EU ruling.
The European Commission has given provisional approval for plans to make intelligent speed assistance (ISA) mandatory in all new cars.
It is one of a number of safety measures set to become standard on all new cars if the plans are given final approval by the European Parliament in September.
Also set to become compulsory are lane keep assistance, autonomous emergency braking, data loggers, driver drowsiness warning systems and wiring to enable the fitting of an in-car breathalyser.
The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) says that approval of the measures could cut collisions by 30 per cent and save 25,000 lives across Europe in the next 15 years.
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for road safety charity Brake, welcomed the move. He said: “This is a landmark day for road safety. These measures will provide the biggest leap forward for road safety this century, perhaps even since the introduction of the seat belt.
“These lifesaving measures come at a vital time, with road safety in a concerning period of stagnation with more than 70 people still being killed or seriously injured on British roads every day.”
How does ISA work?
Intelligent speed assistance is already fitted to many modern cars and uses traffic sign recognition and/or GPS location data to determine local speed limits. It then limits engine power to prevent the car accelerating above that limit.
The system can be overridden by the driver pressing hard on the accelerator and the ETSC has suggested that there should initially be an on/off control to completely deactivate it.
The proposals would see ISA and the other measures made mandatory by May 2022 for all cars not already approved for production and May 2024 for cars models already on sale.
Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, the ruling is expected to be applied in the UK as well. The Vehicle Certification Agency, which must approve all new cars put on sale, has said it intends to retain mutual recognition of type approval between the UK and EU regardless of the Brexit process.
Paving the way for automation
EU Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said the “vast majority” of fatal road accidents were caused by human error and that action must be taken to address this.
“With the new advanced safety features that will become mandatory, we can have the same kind of impact as when safety belts were first introduced.
“Many of the new features already exist, in particular in high-end vehicles. Now we raise the safety level across the board, and pave the way for connected and automated mobility of the future.”
Case isn’t clear
However, the suitability of ISA has been questioned.
AA president Edmund King said that while autonomous emergency braking could clearly cut accidents the case was not so clear with ISA.
He said: “The best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot and the driver should use it to do the right speed in the right situation.
“The right speed is often below the speed limit, for example outside a school with children about, but with ISA there may be a temptation to go at the top speed allowed which may not be appropriate.
“Sometimes a little speed also helps to keep safe on the road, for example over-taking a tractor on a country road or joining a motorway.”
The news comes a week after Volvo announced it would limit all its new cars to a top speed of 112mph from next year.
RAC road safety spokesperson Pete Williams said: “As we progress on the journey to self-driving cars it is important to take advantage of all the associated technological developments to take safety to the next level.
“Limiting speed may initially sound somewhat Big Brother-like, but as it stands the intention is for the technology to be overridable in certain situations – for example by pressing hard on the accelerator to complete an over-taking manoeuvre. In addition, vehicles will not brake automatically when going from a faster to a slower speed limit, meaning it will still be down to the driver to brake appropriately.
“But as the limiters can be overridden it naturally begs the question whether some drivers will do this regularly to bypass the system, potentially undermining some of the system’s benefits.
“While there is much talk in these proposals about speed limiters, the greatest benefit may well be in technology that can prevent distractions and improve drivers’ concentration as this could massively improve road safety.”
Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School said that technology that can aid safety should be welcomed but warned that ISA could create additional problems.
He said: “The sign-recognition cameras will need to work in synergy with all aspects of the road, including temporary road signs such as those around roadworks sites, with 100 per cent accuracy. Otherwise, it could end up presenting more issues than it resolves.
“The speed limiting technology will still require some level of human decision, as drivers will have a choice to override the system.
Unpredictable car reactions are already a cause for concern on our roads, and contribute to many accidents. Sudden or forceful acceleration could potentially be more dangerous, with motorists over- or underestimating the pressure required to overtake. This could potentially compromise road safety rather than improve it, so it’s important to ensure the nuances of this technology are fully explored.”