When the European legislator wants to ensure more safety in road traffic by means of a regulation, that regulation’s title can sometimes be quite cumbersome. This is currently applicable to the “Regulation (EU) 2019/2144 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2019 on type-approval requirements for motor vehicles and their trailers, and systems, components, and separate technical units intended for such vehicles, as regards their general safety and the protection of vehicle occupants and vulnerable road users”. The ordinance’s legal jargon demonstrates a clear objective that might even make it a milestone in road safety. The legislator is consistently relying on technical progress in order to continuously reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities in road traffic through new safety measures. In addition, it stipulates demanding safety features in vehicle equipment specifications for the automotive industry. Among other things, the focus lies on modern and highly developed driver assistance systems for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles – in the EU, new types of motor vehicles must be equipped with them since July 6, 2022. Another date that most manufacturers will have marked in red in their calendars is July 7, 2024: From this date forward, the rules will generally apply to all first time registrations.
The EU regulation defines a minimum standard for assistance systems
“Driver assistance systems are a key to greater road safety because they help to either prevent accidents altogether or at least reduce their consequences,” explains DEKRA road safety expert Walter Niewöhner. They also enjoy a high level of acceptance among drivers, as recently shown by the survey conducted by opinion research company forsa for the DEKRA Road Safety Report 2021. In practice, however, the proportion of privately used cars equipped with electronic safety systems still has room for improvement. In a study published in 2019 on the market penetration of vehicle safety systems, the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) found that sport utility vehicles (SUVs), as well as upper mid-range and luxury class vehicles, are generally equipped with good safety features. Overall, however, the penetration of automatic braking and warning systems is at a low level, due to the low equipment level of new lower class vehicles. The EU regulation gives lots of fresh impetus. It specifies a series of safety systems that will define a minimum standard for the equipment of electronic assistance systems across all market segments. The majority of these required safety systems are assistance systems.
Assistance systems are allowed to intervene in the driving process
So where is the journey for automotive assistants headed? And what will manufacturers and drivers face? A look at Article 6 of the EU regulation gives some insight. It provides a list of systems, almost all of which have a certain level of intelligence. The drowsiness warning system, for example, warns the driver as soon as it detects signs of drowsiness and declining attention. The reversing assistant warns of a collision with people and objects behind the vehicle when the driver engages reverse gear. In addition, there are systems that are allowed to intervene in the driving action – even though the law requires that the driver can override them at any time. The electronic assistants must also switch themselves off automatically if adverse weather conditions or deficiencies in the road infrastructure impair their safe functioning. The intelligent speed assistant’s task is to use warning signals to alert the driver when he or she is exceeding a speed limit and to reduce speed if necessary. The emergency lane assist springs into action when there is a risk of the vehicle unintentionally leaving its lane. The system is guided by lane markings and, if necessary, intervenes in the steering with an appropriate steering impulse.
The emergency brake assistant must soon reliably detect pedestrians and cyclists
The emergency brake assistant, in turn, must be able to detect stationary and moving vehicles in front of the motor vehicle, warn the driver and, if necessary, brake independently. Starting on July 7, 2024, the emergency brake assistant in all new vehicle types must also detect pedestrians and cyclists. Two years later, this rule will apply to first time registrations as well. The EU regulation’s emergency functions are completed by the installation of an emergency brake light, which indicates to following traffic that the vehicle is being braked with strong deceleration or that the antilock braking system is active at more than 50 kilometers per hour. Incidentally, the mandatory equipment under Article 6 also includes two systems that can not be classified as driver assistance. Manufacturers must provide a standardized interface that enables the retrofitting of an alcohol sensitive immobilizer. The event-related data memory, on the other hand, is assigned more to accident investigation and research than to the driver – the system must record and document anonymized driving data such as speed, braking, and position shortly before, during, and after an accident.
The new systems point to the future of automated driving
The bottom line is that the EU regulation sets a comparatively high standard for driver assistance systems. So what about the possibility that a car with sophisticated assistant systems could be more than the sum of its parts – for example, a partially automated vehicle according to SAE level 3? As it happens, the regulations only describe individual assistance systems and otherwise hold back on statements about the various levels of automated driving. However, the regulation also clearly points to the future: “A large number of these systems are necessary development steps in order to be able to initiate partially and highly automated driving,” knows DEKRA expert Walter Niewöhner. Until then, however, these assistance systems remain pure driving aids – which also have their own particular system limitations. “If someone drives on icy roads at the speed that is usually permitted, not even the intelligent speed assistant can prevent the possibility of an accident,” Walter Niewöhner knows. And what if a driver is caught speeding because the speed assistant did not correctly recognize a traffic sign? A driving assistant can not be held responsible for defects or incorrect behavior – which the courts are increasingly confirming in their rulings. In the end, it is always the driver who is in control and who bears the responsibility, even if sophisticated driving assistance systems are on board, too.