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Euro NCAP crash tests celebrate 20 years of being life-saver

PUBLISHED: 14:48 16 February 2017

The 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100, bottom, and modern Honda Jazz. Picture: Thatcham Research

The 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100, bottom, and modern Honda Jazz. Picture: Thatcham Research

Thatcham Research

Since the Euro NCAP crash tests began 20 years ago, shaking up the way car-makers look at safety, more that 182,000 deaths and serious injuries have been avoided.

The 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100 and modern Honda Jazz show how the EuroNCAP tests have helped to make cars safer with better protection for occupants and other road-users. Pictures: Thatcham ResearchThe 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100 and modern Honda Jazz show how the EuroNCAP tests have helped to make cars safer with better protection for occupants and other road-users. Pictures: Thatcham Research

More than 182,000 deaths and serious injuries have been saved on UK roads since revolutionary Euro NCAP car safety tests were launched 20 years ago.

The tests, introduced in February 1997 and in the face of fierce motor industry opposition, exposed hidden dangers in top-selling family cars, forcing a fundamental rethink in the way vehicles were designed to prevent injuries and save lives. Twenty years on, nine out of 10 cars sold on the European market hold a Euro NCAP rating.

Today, as the results of a crash-test between two family cars built 20 years apart – a 1997 Rover 100 and a current Honda Jazz – underline major advances in vehicle safety, Thatcham Research, which conducts UK tests for Euro NCAP, estimates that advances driven by rigorous testing has helped deliver a 63% reduction in car occupants killed and seriously injured, from 23,000 in 1997 to 8,500 in 2015.

Over the same period the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed or seriously injured has fallen by 40%, from 14,500 in 1997 to 8,500 in 2015.

The interior damage to the  Rover 100 which was first tested in 1997. Picture: Thatcham ResearchThe interior damage to the Rover 100 which was first tested in 1997. Picture: Thatcham Research

Demanding safety as standard

Thatcham Research is marking the 20th anniversary by urging consumers to further boost Britain’s road safety record by making a commitment to buy only models with a five-star Euro NCAP rating and a collision avoidance technology like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane assist systems to warn if the car is wandering out of the lane. They also called on manufacturers to fit AEB as standard to prevent thousands of accidents.

The call came as Thatcham Research, which conducts Euro NCAP tests in the UK, estimated that if AEB, which can sense pedestrians and cyclists, became standard on every new car sold in the UK, it would save 2,700 pedestrian and cyclist deaths and serious injuries every year. Over 20 years, this would mean 54,000 fewer.

The modern  Honda Jazz after the EuroNCAP crash test. Picture: Thatcham ResearchThe modern Honda Jazz after the EuroNCAP crash test. Picture: Thatcham Research

Euro NCAP’s secretary general Michiel van Ratingen said: “As we mark 20 years at the forefront of road safety, we are very proud that Euro NCAP’s programme of safety tests has achieved major, life-saving improvements in cars and has helped Europe reach the lowest road fatality rate for any region in the world.

“Euro NCAP has given millions of consumers the knowledge and confidence to choose the safest cars possible. Recent years have shown a slowdown in the progress rate, however, so we mustn’t take our foot off the gas. We want to ensure that Europe’s roads get even safer in the next 20 years, not just for car occupants but for all participants in traffic.

“We already test many more aspects of a car’s safety than we did when we started in 1997, and that is set to continue. Next year, we will test systems that recognise and avoid crashes with cyclists, and we’re lining up a very challenging road map for 2020 to 2025.”

The old Rover 100 after the EuroNCAP crash test. Picture: Thatcham ResearchThe old Rover 100 after the EuroNCAP crash test. Picture: Thatcham Research

Consumer outcry, manufacturers under scrutiny

Since 1997 Euro NCAP has assessed 629 different car models, resulting in nine out of 10 cars now sold in Europe holding an official Euro NCAP rating. Safety technologies that were non-existent or optional at best – such as driver and passenger airbags, side curtain airbags, seatbelt reminders and electronic stability control – are now standard on most cars sold in Europe.

Backed by the UK government, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) and the Swedish and Dutch governments, the first Euro NCAP crash test results were revealed in February 1997. Until then car-makers had to meet only basic legislative crash test requirements for new cars. They conducted their own crash tests but they were not standardised – and the results were not published. It was impossible for consumers to compare the safety of one car with another.

Euro NCAP’s programme turned these principles on their head – 1997 was the first time that realistic, like-for-like tests had been conducted by independent experts and the results sparked outrage from consumer groups, the public and the media.

The 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100 and modern Honda Jazz show how the EuroNCAP tests have helped to make cars safer with better protection for occupants and other road-users. Pictures: Thatcham ResearchThe 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100 and modern Honda Jazz show how the EuroNCAP tests have helped to make cars safer with better protection for occupants and other road-users. Pictures: Thatcham Research

Peter Shaw, chief executive at Thatcham Research, said: “Euro NCAP has fundamentally changed the way that vehicle buyers and vehicle manufacturers value safety.

“In 1997, many motorists were still choosing not to wear seatbelts. Only a few years later we were demanding airbags, side-impact protection and other safety systems. You’re now twice as likely to walk away from a car cash compared with 20 years ago. These major changes in the way people and manufacturers prioritise safety are all thanks to Euro NCAP.

“The focus now is all about crash prevention. Making sure that Britain’s roads continue to become even safer, not just for car occupants but for every road user. We have come a long way since the days when manufacturers met only the most basic, mandatory, safety requirements but we must continue to apply pressure.”

The 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100 and modern Honda Jazz show how the EuroNCAP tests have helped to make cars safer with better protection for occupants and other road-users. Pictures: Thatcham ResearchThe 20th anniversary crash test between the old Rover 100 and modern Honda Jazz show how the EuroNCAP tests have helped to make cars safer with better protection for occupants and other road-users. Pictures: Thatcham Research

New tests for 2018

Other new technologies being tested by Euro NCAP for inclusion in the 2018 rating system, include:

Lane assist systems to control steering if there are potential risks.

Tests to reduce crashes at junctions.

The modern  Honda Jazz after the EuroNCAP crash test. Picture: Thatcham ResearchThe modern Honda Jazz after the EuroNCAP crash test. Picture: Thatcham Research

Pedestrian AEB that works at night time and new AEB cyclist detection tests to encourage manufacturers to further enhance these important technologies.

Do you take the EuroNCAP star ratings into account when you buy a car? Email motoring@archant.co.uk

Watch a video of the Honda Jazz and Rover 100 crash test at www.EDP24.co.uk/home/motoring

The modern Honda Jazz protects the passengers in the 20th anniversary EuroNCAP comparison crash test. Picture: Thatcham ResearchThe modern Honda Jazz protects the passengers in the 20th anniversary EuroNCAP comparison crash test. Picture: Thatcham Research

Early test cars not shining stars

In the first test, of seven popular supermini-sized cars, the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo each achieved three stars out of the then-maximum of four, based on protection levels offered to adult occupants.

The top-selling Rover 100 – formerly the Metro – achieved only one star while the Fiat Punto, Nissan Micra, Vauxhall Corsa and Renault Clio achieved only two stars. When pedestrian protection was assessed, no vehicle scored more than two points, suggesting that manufacturers were not designing front ends with vulnerable road-users in mind.

Leading car manufacturers attacked the tests, claiming they were so severe that it was ‘impossible’ to achieve four stars. Five months later, however, Volvo’s S40 became the first four-star car for occupant protection. Manufacturers now compete to outperform rivals in Euro NCAP tests – and regularly use the ratings in their advertisements.

Today, leading figures hailed the Euro NCAP tests as a major turning point in delivering safer cars.

Andrew Miller, Euro NCAP president and Thatcham Research chief technical officer, said: “The impact of these tests cannot be overstated. Until Euro NCAP, consumers only had the manufacturers’ word for it. Now we have the safest cars ever and the safety levels of each car are there for all to see. This success could only be achieved by actively working together in Europe under one umbrella and by continuing to invest in better safety.”

Since 1997, Euro NCAP tests have become ever more demanding and cars can now achieve a maximum of five stars, awarded not just for how they protect occupants and pedestrians in a collision, but on the car’s ability to avoid a crash in the first place.

The tests represent real-life accident scenarios that could result in the death or injury. Top achievers must demonstrate that their cars are fitted as standard with technology that avoids or mitigates such crashes and, where a crash is not avoidable, adequate protection is offered to car occupants and other road-users.

EURO NCAP TIMELINE

1997 – First results released.

2001 – Introduces seat belt reminder assessment and Renault Laguna becomes the first five-star car in adult occupant protection.

2003 – Launches child protection rating.

2007 – Releases its first ever Europe-wide electronic stability control (ESC) fitment survey.

2008 – Begins testing pick-ups and releases results of first whiplash protection tests.

2009 – Introduces the new overall star rating including safety assist.

2010 – Launches Euro NCAP advanced rewards.

2011 – Begins testing electric vehicles and makes ESC tests mandatory in the star rating.

2014 – Includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB) in the rating and begins safety tests on heavy quadricycles.

2015 – Introduces new full width frontal test.

2016 – Expands its safety rating by including AEB technology for pedestrians, launches the dual rating to differentiate between the base model and one fitted with extra safety technology, continues to test heavy quadricycles and introduces two new child dummy sizes in the crash tests representing a six and a 10-year-old child.

What the stars mean

Euro NCAP experts recalibrate the requirements for each star rating each year, making it ever tougher to achieve a high score, thereby ensuring that vehicle safety continually moves forward. Recently, the inclusion of emerging crash avoidance technology has significantly altered the meaning of the stars.

What do the different stars really mean?

Five stars – overall good performance in crash protection, well equipped with robust crash avoidance technology.

Four stars – overall good performance in crash protection, additional crash avoidance technology may be present.

Three stars – average to good occupant protection but lacking crash avoidance technology.

Two stars – nominal crash protection but lacking crash avoidance technology.

One star – marginal crash protection.

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