The results of the world’s first comprehensive test of different car makers’ driver assistance systems has been revealed today.
The safety tests, developed and carried out by Euro NCAP and Thatcham Research on features that allow cars to steer themselves and control their speed, saw pioneer Tesla only score a ‘moderate’ rating, as while it aced the safety element its Autopilot technology ‘encourages users to relinquish too much control’.
The tests of elements such as lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control are the first of their kind and were designed to give a clearer indication to car buyers about the systems available, how they supplement driving and if they’re any good.
Overall, Mercedes’ assistance technology came out on top in a review of 10 vehicles from different manufacturers, with Tesla’s Model 3 the sixth best performer in the first batch of results, despite starring in certain elements of the assessment.
Autopilot criticised: A world’s first comparative test of vehicle makers’ driver assistance features found that Tesla performed well for safety but was wrongly encouraging owners to relinquish too much control to the car
These are the 10 cars that have first been subject to the new test. The Mercedes came out on top, while Peugeot and Renault scored the lowest ratings
The Tesla Model 3 scored just 36 out of 100 when assessed on its ability to maintain a driver’s focus on the road.
‘The big ‘self-driving’ sell in its marketing material, combined with the high performing assistance, encourages the driver to relinquish too much control,’ testers said about the US vehicle.
However, it gained the highest marks for performance and ability to respond to emergencies, receiving an overall score of 131 and a rating of ‘moderate’.
The new tests will be independent from Euro NCAP’s crash safety ratings, which score cars on how well they perform in a variety of shunts.
However, each model reviewed still gets a mark, which is based on three scoring categories covering how well its driver assistance systems work, how they react when a driver intervenes to take back control and how accurately the technology is marketed to customers.
Each car is then given an overall score out of 200 and a grade of Very Good, Good, Moderate, or – the lowest – Entry.
The Tesla Model 3 scored 131 out of 200 in the Assisted Driver Grading, which earned it a ‘moderate’ rating, because it encourages people to allow the car to drive
How Euro NCAP rates driver assistance systems in its new test
Cars are tested across three criteria:
• Vehicle Assistance
How effective are the speed assistance, steering assistance and adaptive cruise control systems which work together to control the vehicle’s speed and steering?
· Driver Engagement
How accurate is the carmaker’s marketing material? How effectively does the car monitor the driver to ensure they are engaged with the driving process? How easy is it for the driver to interact with the assisted system? How clearly does the car communicate assisted status?
· Safety Back-up
How well does the car protect the driver in an emergency – this could be a system failure, when the driver becomes unresponsive, or if the car is about to collide with another vehicle? What happens when there is a loss of sensor input?
Cars are given a mark out of 100 in each of these three categories.
The most important of these is the Safety Back-up score, which is added to a model’s lowest from the Vehicle Assistance or Driver Engagement categories.
These marks lead to an overall score out of 200, which earns each vehicle one of the following ratings:
· Very good (> 160 points)
· Good (> 140 points)
· Moderate (> 120 points)
· Entry (> 100 points)
The Assisted Driver Grading has been launched due to the ‘significant potential for car makers to overstate the capability of their current assisted driving technology and for motorists to misuse it,’ say safety experts.
Such a comment hints at the spate of videos – mainly from the US – showing Tesla owners sleeping or drinking at the wheel while using the Autopilot function.
‘Confusion around the limitations of these systems has resulted in serious road collisions – and deaths,’ Thatcham Research said.
The rating comes after the UK Government in August issued a call for evidence to support the use of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) on motorways from next year.
The technology automatically keeps cars in their lane on motorways without the driver steering.
Ministers are examining whether vehicles fitted with ALKS should be allowed to use it at speeds of up to 70mph on some of the country’s busiest roads.
If given the green light, it will be the first time motorists can legally take their hands off the wheel for extended periods while the car to takes over responsibility for driving.
While this proposed technology is Level 3 autonomy (on a scale from Level 0 to full automation at Level 5 – see infographics below), the new grading is for assistance systems that are deemed Level 2.
Director of Research, Matthew Avery, said these are systems that are already allowed on our roads to assist the driver – but do not replace them.
However, he warned there is a high level of confusion among drivers about how they can and should be used.
‘Unfortunately, there are motorists that believe they can purchase a self-driving car today,’ Mr Avery explained.
‘This is a dangerous misconception that sees too much control handed to vehicles that are not ready to cope with all situations.
‘Clarity is therefore required to make sure drivers understand the capability and performance of current assisted systems.
‘It’s crucial today’s technology is adopted safely before we take the next step on the road to automation. There are safety and insurance implications that must be considered seriously.’
Currently, the highest level of vehicle autonomy being used on UK roads is Tesla’s Autopilot, which is classified as Level 2
If given the green light, Automated Lane Keep Systems (ALKS) will be the first instance of Level 3 vehicle autonomy in the UK
Experts behind the Assisted Driver Grading said it has been launched due to the ‘significant potential for car makers to overstate the capability of their current assisted driving technology and for motorists to misuse it’
How did cars and their systems rate?
The Mercedes GLE emerged as the strongest performer across all three criteria, while the BMW 3-Series was just two points behind. Both vehicles achieved a ‘very good’ grading.
The Ford Kuga’s results showed a ‘good’ grading is possible for a mid-class vehicle, thanks to its combination of Vehicle Assistance and Safety Back-up.
The entry-level Renault Clio and Peugeot 2008 offer effective systems, but lack emergency assist capability which would have boosted their grading.
‘The first batch of results show some car makers have developed robust assisted driving systems and that’s good to see. But there are also significant gaps in capability on other vehicles,’ Avery added.
The top performer in the first round of tests was the Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV. Researchers said it ‘keeps the driver engaged with plenty of clear communication regarding the assistance offered and ‘provides really useful assistance, but not so much that drivers will believe the car can drive itself’
‘For instance, the Tesla Model 3 was the best for vehicle assistance and safety back-up but lost ground for over selling what its ‘Autopilot’ system is capable of, while actively discouraging drivers from engaging when behind the wheel.
‘Tesla should however be recognised for its ability to update vehicles ‘Over the Air’.
‘Two years ago, it’s safety back-up results would not have been market leading.
‘This unique capability has seen it move the safety game on, across its whole fleet of vehicles.’
What Thatcham Research said about the first 10 cars rated
Audi Q8 – Very Good (162)
‘A high-end vehicle, with a high level of vehicle assistance and well-balanced driver engagement. The first of our ‘very good’ performers.’
BMW 3 Series – Very Good (172)
‘Gets a ‘very good’ rating, with one of the best scores in safety back-up testing. The only vehicle to feature a Driver Monitoring System, which although relatively basic, is increasingly important for driver engagement. BMW is ahead of the game in fitting this technology, which will be essential to the safe introduction of Automated Driving.’
Ford Kuga – Good (152)
‘Its vehicle assistance is not quite as strong as some of the other cars tested, but the driver engagement is good, as were the safety back-up systems, earning it a ‘good’ rating overall.’
Mercedes GLE – Very Good (174)
‘Our overall top scorer with consistently high scores across all testing categories. Keeps the driver engaged with plenty of clear communication regarding the assistance offered. Provides really useful assistance, but not so much that drivers will believe the car can drive itself.’
Nissan Juke – Moderate (124)
‘Another small SUV with quite impressive performance. The ProPilot name is not ideal, but it still has good driver engagement and safety back-up systems for the price-point.’
Peugeot 2008 – Entry (101)
‘The small SUV category is one of the fastest growing in the market, so although the system is not quite as sophisticated as those fitted to the more expensive models tested, it’s good to see that buyers at lower price points can still reap some of the safety and comfort benefits of Assisted Driving.’
Renault Clio – Entry (105)
‘Great to see an entry-level Supermini with a system that gives a generally good amount of vehicle assistance and safety back-up, if required. Although the systems available at the premium end of the market offered more assistance, the Renault Clio has a well-balanced system that successfully keeps the driver engaged.’
Tesla Model 3 – Moderate (131)
‘Many aspects of the Model 3 are exemplary; its vehicle assistance is the best we saw in testing and it also aced the safety back-up element. However, it achieves a ‘moderate’ rating for poor driver engagement, with a design philosophy that is very much about the vehicle doing the driving. That would be appropriate for an automated vehicle – but this is vehicle assistance. The big ‘self-driving’ sell in its marketing material, combined with the high performing assistance, encourages the driver to relinquish too much control.’
Volvo V60 – Moderate (120)
‘A high level of vehicle assistance and good, well-balanced driver engagement. It’s a shame, but the vehicle platform and technology have aged quickly and are no longer state of the art.’
VW Passat – Moderate (137)
‘A moderate performer, offering solid safety back-up systems and a good balance between vehicle assistance and driver engagement. Very close to a ‘good’ rating.’