Motoring groups have given cautious support to EU plans to fit new cars with automatic speed limiters as part of a raft of measures designed to make it more difficult to crash and safer if you do.

Intelligent Assistance Info

From 2022 new cars must be built with a device that will react to changing maximum speed limits, even if the driver doesn’t, and will reduce power if the car is exceeding them. It will NOT suddenly apply the brakes and risk a collision with the vehicle behind.

The technology - called Intelligent Speed Assistance, or ISA – is already available in many cars on sale today, but the EU wants to make it mandatory on all new cars. The UK authority, the Vehicle Certification Agency, has already said this country will fall into line with other European countries regardless of what happens with Brexit, partly to avoid the cost of changing cars for different markets.

Using GPS to accurately pinpoint the car’s position and sign recognition cameras which can read the speed limit, ISA will first sound a warning and if the car doesn’t slow down to, or below the speed limit, the ISA will gradually reduce power. Drivers will be able to override it so that, for example, they will be able to complete an overtaking manoeuvre more safely by exceeding the speed limit. Pushing hard on the accelerator will temporarily disable ISA.

While generally welcoming it, motoring groups have pointed out the risk of drivers becoming too reliant on technology instead of their own awareness, observation and judgement.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The possible introduction of ISA raises at least two questions. First, there are many miles of road in this country where the speed limit is far higher than the safe speed for a particular stretch – the limit is a maximum, not a target. Second, until we reach the point of full automation we need drivers to be awake, alert and in full control of their vehicle – the more we take the driving task away from them, the greater the risk that their minds will drift onto other things.”

However, he added: “It is worth remembering that speed limits are there for a reason – to make our roads safer. Would we really be discussing whether observing any other laws put in place to protect our safety should be a matter for individual discretion?”

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research at the UK’s biggest motoring charity, said: “It should be remembered that excessive speeding is a factor in 14% of fatal crashes whereas human error is present in 64%. Speed limiters have a role to play, but on their own cannot eliminate all crashes. Advanced drivers don’t need to be reminded electronically what the speed limit is, but for others it could be a real life-saver, and help people not lose their driving licences at the same time.”

And while broadly in favour of ISA, Matthew Avery, Director of Insurance Research at Thatcham Research, the insurance industry’s body which assesses cars’ safety which is factored into the cost of our insurance premiums, warned: “Speed signs can often be obscured or inaccurate, while GPS mapping can be out of date. Temporary limits and road works can confuse the system too. There could also be a danger that drivers ‘adapt’ to the system – and come to over-rely on it, planting their throttle to the floor in the expectation that the car will control the speed. This could be a distraction danger and lead to speeding fines if the system is not picking up the limit correctly. And drivers will still be liable, whether they were relying on the system or not.”

One car maker, Volvo, has already started down the road of lowering maximum speed limits and has set a ceiling of 112 mph (180 kph) on its new cars which is above the legal ceiling in any country apart from Germany and some sections of its autobahns.

lots of speed limit signs
City-Brake Active system

ISA is one of nine measures in what the EU calls the Third Mobility Package and among them are the mandatory fitting of AEB, Autonomous Emergency Braking, which slows the car if the driver doesn’t respond in time to the gap to the vehicle in front closing too fast for safety – including a cyclist or pedestrian. AEB is now a key element in deciding on which insurance bracket a car should fall into and is widely supported as being the single biggest safety improvement since the seat belt. No car can get a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating without it.

Other elements include fitting black box’ data recorders, more effective seat belts, a system which can tell if the driver is getting drowsy or losing attention and alert them, an alcolock’ that will disable the ignition if the driver is over the limit, better visibility for lorry drivers of vulnerable road users such as riders, reversing cameras and/or sensors and the lane assist technology which warns drivers if they drift out of their lane without indicating and again, like ISA, this is already widely available.

The nine safety features due from 2022 are:

  1. Intelligent Speed Assistance
  2. Reversing cameras or parking sensors
  3. Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB)
  4. `Black box’ data recorder
  5. Drowsiness and distraction monitors
  6. Lane-keep assist
  7. Improved seatbelts
  8. Safety glass to protect cyclists and pedestrians
  9. Improved direct vision for trucks



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