(European Transport Safety Council and BBC)

European Union approves mandatory vehicle speed-limiting feature

The European Commission in late March approved a rule to make Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) mandatory for all newly manufactured light vehicles starting in 2022. Legislators said the technology could save thousands of lives and, combined with other mandated new active-safety features, reduce collisions by 30%.

The ISA system—already fitted to vehicles from many brands in Europe—has been widely called a speed-limiting device, but it does not limit maximum speed; ISA is designed to work much like cruise control to prevent the vehicle from traveling in excess of the posted speed limit, but the driver can elect to temporarily override the speed-limiting function.

Additionally, the new ruling requires all vehicles to also incorporate an event data recorder (EDR) that will log driving data that presumably could be used to determine if a driver was overriding the ISA system in the event of an accident or violation of law.

According to information from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), “ISA uses a speed-sign recognition video camera and/or GPS-linked speed-limit data to advise drivers of the current speed limit and automatically limit the speed of the vehicle as needed.”

The ISA would not initiate automatic braking, instead limiting engine power, “preventing the vehicle from accelerating past the current speed limit unless overridden,” said the ETSC.

The legislation, which includes a requirement for other safety equipment such as backup cameras and lane-keeping functionality, must be formally approved by the European Parliament and EU member states in September. Despite an ongoing initiative to exit the European Union, the legislation also would be enforced in Britain.

The legislation also does not dictate what particularly hardware or software must be employed.

Not exactly new

Scores of vehicles in Europe—from Ford to Fiat—already are fitted with ISA. The Euro New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) vehicle safety-performance rating program—essentially Europe’s counterpart to the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Admin.’s (NHTSA) “star”-rating NCAP—awards extra points for vehicles equipped with ISA.

“For more than a decade,” the ETSC says on its webpage, “ETSC has been advocating the benefits of Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), a driver-assistance system that a 2014 Norwegian study found to be the ‘most effective’ in saving lives.” That study was conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Transport Economics.

But other analysis of the Norwegian study suggests another potential intent for curbin speed: reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions resulting from lower overall speeds. This objective seems similar to one proposed decades ago by environmental interests as justification for curtailing speeds on Germany’s famed autobahn road network.

Critically, the ETSC said it also “supports a full on-off switch for the system, to aid public acceptance at introduction.” The default status for the ISA system would be “on,” however, and any disabling of ISA would be cancelled each time the vehicle is started.

Infrastructure catchup

Meanwhile, if ISA is approved by the EU, the phase-in period presumably will allow for technology to become sufficiently robust. The European Automotive Manufacturers Assn., CNN Business reported, said road signs in Europe are not yet sufficiently standardized to make for reliable sign recognition from onboard cameras and added that digital road maps also can have outdated speed-limit information.

The push for controlled vehicle speeds appears to be gaining momentum. Just prior to the EU announcement about ISA, Volvo Cars said it will fit true speed limiters to all its vehicles beginning in the 2021 model year to govern top speed to no more than 112 mph (180 km/h).

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