Whether it is a failure to give way, inappropriate speed, insufficient distance, driving under the influence, distraction caused by smartphones or other electronic communication systems, and much more: The human factor plays a crucial role in traffic accidents. “Across Europe, almost 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error,” says DEKRA accident researcher Markus Egelhaaf. In order to take countermeasures and, to a certain degree, compensate for the dangers resulting from inadequacies at the wheel of a motor vehicle, the automotive industry has for years been increasingly relying on driver assistance systems that can recognize critical traffic situations at an early stage, warn of dangers and, if necessary, actively intervene in the situation.
This is precisely what the General Safety Regulation (GSR), adopted by the EU Commission in March 2019, is targeting. As part of the regulation, various safety-enhancing driver assistance systems will be made mandatory for new vehicles on Europe’s roads in several phases. The regulation applies to new vehicle types since July 2022, and by July 2024 all new vehicles registered in the EU will have to comply with most of the GSR regulations. For a few assistance systems, the regulations will not take effect until after 2024. “Overall, the package as a whole can be expected to deliver a large increase in safety for all road users,” Markus Egelhaaf is convinced. At the same time, the DEKRA expert points out that assistance systems do not relieve drivers of their responsibility. “Ultimately, this responsibility always lies with the human driver, who, even with the additional safety systems, must adapt their driving style to the traffic situation or road and visibility conditions.” The best system cannot shift the limits of physics. We must also remember that it will take many years before a high level of market penetration is achieved. There are still many vehicles on the road with only a few or no assistance systems.
Accident prevention with electronic assistance
But what does the GSR stipulate in detail for new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles specifically? By July 7, 2024, they must be equipped – as certain trucks and buses have been for a few years now – with a sophisticated emergency braking system that is at least able to detect stationary and moving vehicles, and brake independently. By 2026, the emergency braking system in new vehicles must also be able to react to pedestrians and cyclists. For new vehicle types, the latter will already apply by July 2024. New cars and light commercial vehicles must also be equipped with an emergency lane departure warning system. Such a system warns the driver if the vehicle threatens to leave the lane. If the driver does not react and the vehicle leaves the lane, the system intervenes.
Emergency braking systems and lane departure warning systems are examples of systems that spring into action in critical situations or before an imminent collision. They help to avoid accidents that are otherwise likely to happen in certain situations. Other systems address potentially critical events, work preventively, and are more independent of specific situations. One example of this is the fatigue detection system that will be mandatory by July 2024, which analyzes the driver’s alertness and prompts him or her to take a break if necessary. A fixture for installing an alcohol immobilizer, designed to help prevent drunk driving, and the so-called intelligent speed assistant must also be installed. This system warns the driver if the maximum speed permitted on the current stretch of road is exceeded. However, many accidents happen because drivers are driving too fast for the current road or weather conditions, even though they are within the generally permitted limits. “Unfortunately, the intelligent speed assistant is ineffective against inappropriate speed,” says the DEKRA expert.
An accident data recorder is also in the works
In addition to the systems already mentioned, the GSR provides for numerous other electronic systems as mandatory equipment. For example, the emergency brake light, which flashes the brake lights to indicate to road users behind you that you are slowing down rapidly, or the reversing assistant to prevent collisions when reversing. In addition, new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles must be equipped with an accident data recorder or Event Data Recorder (EDR). “The EDR constantly records dynamic driving data and the status of systems as well as their activation or active intervention while driving,” explains Markus Egelhaaf. The data is permanently recorded in the event of an accident or at the driver’s request – for the time shortly before, during, and after the collision. By evaluating such data, it is possible to determine more precisely how an accident occurred. Last but not least, a tire pressure monitoring system and effective protection of vehicle IT against cyber attacks and manipulation are also required.