Insurer warns car speed limiters could cause other crashes to rise

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Plans for all new cars to be fitted with speed limiters from 2022 under tough EU safety rules could cause a spike in some crashes, a major insurer has today warned. 

All new models will have Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) black boxes that use GPS to work out what the speed limit is and rein in engine performance so the driver can’t break it.    

An ISA will be fitted in new models as standard from 2022 under the European Commission-approved legislation – and the rules will be mirrored in the UK even if Brexit happens.

However, Zurich Insurance said that while the technology is likely to reduce the number of speed-related shunts, it could increase accidents outside schools and in adverse weather conditions – due to over-reliance on the technology. 

The Intelligent Speed Assistance technology is variable, so it can respond to changing zones and restrict the vehicle's top speed accordingly

The Intelligent Speed Assistance technology is variable, so it can respond to changing zones and restrict the vehicle’s top speed accordingly

Calum McPhail, head of liability claims at Zurich Insurance, told MailOnline and This is Money that the technology may lead to drivers to switch off.

He said that motorists might ‘assume it is safe just to drive at the given road limit irrespective of the immediate environment – for instance outside schools – and in adverse weather conditions, such standing water caused by rain, fog and snow or ice.’

He added that drivers could pay less attention to speed, believing the car will ‘keep them right’. 

Calum McPhail, head of liability claims at Zurich Insurance

Calum McPhail, head of liability claims at Zurich Insurance 

This means they might travel at the maximum speed allowed by the limiter and not take into account ‘needs to change speed depending on possible hazards that may arise’, including sharp turns, blind corners or pedestrian crossings.

His sentiments were echoed by the RAC, which warned that ‘just because a vehicle’s speed is limited doesn’t mean that drivers can accelerate as fast as they like up to the limit they are in’. 

An RAC spokesman added: ‘We should always drive at the right speed for the conditions, whether that’s due to traffic, bad weather or other hazards.’ 

Mr McPhail also questioned the reliance on GPS for an ISA to function correctly. 

He warned that – from Zurich’s own experience of using black boxes for telematics insurance policies – satellite coverage in rural areas is questionable, suggesting the technology might not be able to operate in remote locations.

If the systems were to be incorporated into new vehicles in the next three years, the insurance claim expert said motorists need to be educated about the limitations. 

He said: ‘There needs to be a corresponding concerted effort around driver attitudes and behaviours and also that drivers actually understand what the technology will and will not do.’ 

The Department for Transport has backed the introduction of speed limiters following legislation for their introduction being approved by the European Commission this week.

A spokesman said: ‘We continuously work with partners across the globe to improve the safety standards of all vehicles. 

‘These interventions are expected to deliver a step-change in road safety across Europe, including the UK.’ 

The bill includes a raft of new safety measures that are now subject to the formal approval of the European Parliament and EU member states in September. 

Cars will be have to be equipped with safety systems such as data loggers, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, driver fatigue detection and reversing cameras or sensors.

All new models will need to have pre-wiring for alcohol interlocks to allow for the retrofit of in-car breathalysers for previously convicted drink drivers. 

AA president Edmund King also raised concerns with the widespread deployment of speed limiters in new cars, and said the ‘best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot’ when used ‘to do the right speed in the right situation’. 

Nine safety features to be mandatory in vehicles from 2022 

Intelligent Speed Assistance

Reversing cameras or parking sensors

Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB)

Event data recorder

Drowsiness and distraction monitors

Lane-keep assist

Improved seatbelts

Safety glass to protect cyclists and pedestrians

Improved direct vision for trucks 

AA president Edmund King said the best speed limiter is the driver's right foot as he blasted the proposed introduction of Intelligent Speed Assistance systems in all new cars

AA president Edmund King said the best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot as he blasted the proposed introduction of Intelligent Speed Assistance systems in all new cars

How will Intelligent Speed Assistance limiters work? 

ISA technology works in conjunction with traffic-sign-recognition cameras and GPS data to determine the speed limit on the road the vehicle is being driven. 

The system can then automatically adjust the restricted top speed by limiting the engine power.   

However, drivers should be able to override the system by pushing hard on the throttle – just in case they’re overtaking another motorist who has decided to put their foot down.      

The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) called for all cars to have a switch to turn the ISA on or off, though each time a vehicle is started the feature will automatically be active. 

If the driver overrides the limiter they will instantly be told to reduce their speed. 

If the user continues to drive above the limit for several seconds, the system will sound an alert for a few seconds and display a visual warning until the vehicle is operating at or below the speed limit again, the transport safety council said.    

The council is likely to push for there to be no off switch for the limiters once motorists have become accustomed to the systems. 

Road death figures in Britain have dropped massively - and declined by 39 per cent between 2007 and 2017, but then remained fairly level in recent years

Road death figures in Britain have dropped massively – and declined by 39 per cent between 2007 and 2017, but then remained fairly level in recent years

Why is the introduction of speed limiters being pushed? 

The legislation is due to come into effect from May 2022 for models that have not yet been approved for production and May 2024 for new cars currently for sale.

The council has been pushing for the introduction of speed limiting technology, claiming it will help to curb road fatalities across the continent. 

According to its estimations, limiters will be able to cut traffic collisions by 30 per cent, potentially saving up to 25,000 lives in the first 15 years of them being mandatory. 

Latest Department for Transport figures show that 1,793 people were killed on the roads in Britain in 2017 – the highest annual total since 2011. However, road deaths have plummeted since the late 1970s and fell 39 per cent between 2007 and 2017.

Of the 2017 casualties, just 18 per cent, or 322 were linked to excess speed.

The number of people killed or seriously injured in the UK has remained relatively consistent over the last few years and road safety groups have called for more to be done to reduce these figures.

Car maker Volvo announced this month that it will restrict the top speed of all its new cars to 112mph from 2020 in an effort to eradicate all road deaths in its vehicles from 2020.

The Swedish brand will also install cameras in its cars from the early 2020s to monitor if drivers are drowsy or drunk – and bring the vehicle to a stop if this is the case. 

Volvo will electronically limit the top speed of all its vehicles to 112mph from next year

Volvo will electronically limit the top speed of all its vehicles to 112mph from next year

Will speed limiters be mandatory in the UK once we’ve left the EU? 

The introduction of speed limiters is subject to the formal approval of the European Parliament and EU member states in September.

And Brexit is unlikely to save UK motorists from the arrival of these limiters. 

That’s because car manufacturers are not expected to approve models separately for the UK market and the UK’s Vehicle Certification Agency – the designated Approval Authority and Technical Service for vehicles in the UK – has previously said it intends to mirror EU rules post-Brexit no matter the outcome. 

We have contacted the VCA for clarification, but at the time of publication, are awaiting a response.  

Commenting on the provisional deal, Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the ETSC said: ‘There have only been a handful of moments in the last fifty years which could be described as big leaps forward for road safety in Europe. 

‘The mandatory introduction of the seat belt was one, and the first EU minimum crash safety standards, agreed in 1998 was another. 

‘If last night’s agreement is given the formal green light, it will represent another of those moments, preventing 25,000 deaths within 15 years of coming into force.’ 

And Brexit is unlikely to save UK motorists from the arrival of these limiters as type approval for vehicles will mirror the EU

And Brexit is unlikely to save UK motorists from the arrival of these limiters as type approval for vehicles will mirror the EU

The systems will use GPS and traffic-sign-recognition cameras in the car the identify the top speed and limit how fast the vehicle can be driven in that zone

The systems will use GPS and traffic-sign-recognition cameras in the car the identify the top speed and limit how fast the vehicle can be driven in that zone

How the industry has reacted to the news that ISA could become mandatory 

Citroen, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Renault and Volvo already have cars on the market with functioning ISA technology fitted. 

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes said there is demand for the technology.

‘Manufacturers invest billions in safety technology, often ahead of any regulation,’ he commented.

‘Industry innovation and consumer appetite is already driving adoption, and many new cars are fitted with intelligent speed limiters and other new safety features such as autonomous emergency braking as standard.’ 

Restricted: The European Parliament, Council and Commission have approved legislation for speed limiters to be mandatory in the next three years

Restricted: The European Parliament, Council and Commission have approved legislation for speed limiters to be mandatory in the next three years

AA president Edmund King was less supportive of the measures.

He told MailOnline and This is Money: ‘There is no doubt that new in-car technology can save lives and there is a good case for autonomous emergency braking to be fitted in all cars.

As the limiters can be overridden it naturally begs the question whether some drivers will do this regularly to bypass the system, potentially undermining some of the system’s benefits 

‘When it comes to Intelligent Speed Assistance the case is not so clear. 

‘The best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot and the driver should use it to do the right speed in the right situation. 

‘The right speed is often below the speed limit, for example, outside a school with children around, but with ISA there may be a temptation to go at the top speed allowed which may not be appropriate.

‘Sometimes a little speed also helps to keep safe on the road, for example, overtaking a tractor on a country road or joining a motorway.

‘Dodgem cars are fitted with speed limiters but they still seem to crash.’ 

The RAC’s road safety spokesperson Pete Williams questioned the reasoning behind the introduction of the technology if drivers could simply override the system.

‘As the limiters can be overridden it naturally begs the question whether some drivers will do this regularly to bypass the system, potentially undermining some of the system’s benefits,’ he told This is Money. 

Traffic and navigation app Waze said there could be other benefits alongside safety if limiters were required in all new models. 

Finlay Clark, UK country manager for the app said: ‘Often drivers aren’t aware of speeds changing on a stretch of road or become a little complacent – by including a reminder and changing the icon to red when they exceed the limit, we saw the impact it had.

‘More initiatives that help drivers stick to speed limits not only help improve air quality but can also reduce congestion.’

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