Driving Standards in Safety

93 per cent of road accidents occur because of human error. Whether we consider ourselves to be good drivers or not, a growing array of active car safety technologies are available to support us as we drive. And that’s the key focus of the What Car? Safety Award; going beyond how a car performs during an accident to look at pioneering tech to avoid the crash happening at all.

Who is the award for?

This award is important for both manufacturers and consumers, highlighting the good work being done and the progress that’s still needed to ensure that all our cars come with the most up-to-date safety features as standard.

Rigorous analysis

The panel of judges use decades of knowledge and experience as well as analysis of Euro NCAP test data and real-world crash data to find Britain’s safest car.

The best of the best

Although there are many five-star Euro NCAP rated vehicles tested, the judges dig deeper to identify those manufacturers that go beyond the five-star rating and add even more safety technology to really identify the best of the best.

History will come to recognize AEB as the most important safety innovation since the seat belt

Matthew Avery

Thatcham Research

Learn More About Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

  • Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
  • Lane Keep Assist (LKA) systems
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
  • Blind Spot Indication System (BLIS)
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Cyclist AEB
  • Pedestrian AEB
  • Reverse AEB
  • Turn-Across Path (TAP) systems

Autonomous emergency braking systems can detect an impending crash and slow or stop the car if the driver fails to act. Systems can use lidar, radar, camera or a combination of these to monitor the road in front of the car. If a vehicle in front slows suddenly the system will alert the driver and, if they fail to act, will apply the brakes automatically. Some systems only work at lower, urban speeds while others function up to motorway speeds. Real world data shows that AEB is reducing the most common crash type, the rear end collision, by 38%.

Lane Keep Assist systems will gently correct a vehicle’s steering to ensure the vehicle stays within the white lines and road edge. Not to be confused with Lane Departure Warning systems that only warn the driver, LKA systems actively but subtly steers the vehicle back into lane. With LKA, a front-facing camera tracks road markings to determine if the vehicle is straying out of its lane and potentially off the road or into the path of another vehicle. Six per cent of A road crashes are head-on collisions where a vehicle has left its own lane. book.

By maintaining a safe gap to the car in front adaptive cruise control can help cut incidents caused by tailgating. As with AEB, ACC can use cameras, radar or lidar to determine the gap to the vehicle in front. Unlike normal cruise control, adaptive systems use the radar (or sometimes camera) to maintain a safe distance between you and the car in front regardless of your set speed. Drivers that use ACC have been shown to have fewer collisions since it is suggested that it helps to condition the driver to maintain a safe distance to the car in front.

This technology is designed to stop drivers moving into the path of an overtaking vehicle that is hidden in the blind spot. It commonly uses radar, to sense the presence of another vehicle including motorcycles and will give a visual or audible warning - usually a light in the wing mirror or door pillar - to alert the driver. Some systems actively intervene to prevent the driver moving into the other vehicles path by braking or steering back into lane.

Using the same corner sensors as the Blind Spot Warning systems, this monitors an approaching vehicle from the side and protects the driver from reversing from a parking space into the path of another vehicle. The systems tend to warn the driver but some actively brake the vehicle to prevent a collision.

Vulnerable road users, including cyclists and pedestrians account for 30 per cent of all fatalities or serious injuries across the EU each year. The smaller size and more erratic movement of cyclists compared with cars makes them harder for standard AEB system to track. As with pedestrian AEB, cyclist detection systems use better sensors and algorithms to detect the presence of cyclists and respond to their movements.

Pedestrian AEB can detect potential collisions with pedestrians and intervene to reduce or avoid the impact. With 5,588 pedestrians killed or seriously injured on UK roads in 2016 the widespread implementation of pedestrian AEB could have a dramatic impact on reducing road casualties. Because of the particular shape and movement of pedestrians, pedestrian AEB must be much more sensitive and discerning.

A fifth of accidents involve reversing into another car and insurance claims for such incidents cost £1.7 billion annually. Far more seriously, not being aware of what is behind you can result in serious or fatal injuries to children, pedestrians and cyclists. Reverse AEB goes a step further than warning beeps, actively applying the brakes of the car if the driver fails to heed the alerts.

Beginning to find its way into mainstream vehicles, TAP comes into play when one vehicle cuts across the path of an oncoming car at junctions, an action responsible for 14 per cent of all collisions. Turn-Across Path systems use a wider focus to monitor oncoming vehicles as well as those in the same lane. If the system detects a driver turning into the path on an oncoming vehicle it will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a potential head on collision.

The Nominees

  • Honda Civic
  • Mercedes X-Class
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Subaru XV
  • Toyota C-HR
  • Vauxhall Insignia
  • Volvo XC60
  • Volvo S90
  • VW Arteon
  • VW T-Roc
Adult Occupant
92%
Child Occupant
75%
Pedestrian
75%
Safety Assist
88%
Specification
Tested Model Honda Civic 1.0 SE, RHD
Body Type 5 door hatchback
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1292kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies All Civics built after 25th Sept 2017, from SHHFK6**0HU014114 and SHHFK7**0HU011421
Class Small Family Car

A very safe family car – includes an AEB system which performed well at motorway speeds, and a standard-fit Lane Keeping Aid, which will gently steer away from lane markings if the car is drifting.

Adult Occupant
90%
Child Occupant
87%
Pedestrian
80%
Safety Assist
77%
Specification
Tested Model Mercedes-Benz X 250d 'POWER', LHD
Body Type 4 door double cab
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 2252kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all X-Class
Class Pick-up

Until the X-Class, the Pick-Up category had not seen a five-star Euro NCAP rating since 2012. It’s score for safety assist technology is the highest ever in its segment.

Adult Occupant
94%
Child Occupant
89%
Pedestrian
82%
Safety Assist
68%
Specification
Tested Model Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S EyeSight, LHD
Body Type 5 door hatchback
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1462kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all Imprezas
Class Small Family Car

Features a standard-fit stereo camera from a manufacturer who always puts safety first.

Adult Occupant
94%
Child Occupant
89%
Pedestrian
84%
Safety Assist
68%
Specification
Tested Model Subaru XV 2.0i-S EyeSight, LHD
Body Type 5 door hatchback
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1462kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all XVs
Class Small Family Car

Often the unsung heroes of car safety, Subaru has delivered another safe vehicle, with standard AEB which is especially good at identifying pedestrians.

Adult Occupant
95%
Child Occupant
77%
Pedestrian
76%
Safety Assist
78%
Specification
Tested Model Toyota C-HR Hybrid
Body Type 5 door SUV
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1470kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all C-HRs
Class Small Off-Road

Continues Toyota’s commitment to safety as standard, with innovative sensors to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

Adult Occupant
93%
Child Occupant
85%
Pedestrian
78%
Safety Assist
69%
Specification
Tested Model Insignia Grand Sport 1.6CDTi Edition
Body Type 5 door hatchback
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1460kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies All Insignias
Class Large Family Car

Great to see a mainstream car which is often a choice for business fleets, with such strong safety credentials.

Adult Occupant
98%
Child Occupant
87%
Pedestrian
76%
Safety Assist
95%
Specification
Tested Model Volvo XC60 D4 AWD Momentum, LHD
Body Type 5 door SUV
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1873kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all XC60'S
Class Large Off-Road

Achieved the best overall Euro NCAP score of the year and is one of the safest cars ever tested. Also comes with innovative crash avoidance systems to help steer a vehicle away from a head on collisions.

Adult Occupant
95%
Child Occupant
80%
Pedestrian
76%
Safety Assist
93%
Specification
Tested Model Volvo S90 D4 'Momentum', LHD
Body Type 4 door Saloon
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1828kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all S90s
Class Executive

Volvo’s safety record speaks for itself, and this vehicle goes above and beyond the current Euro NCAP testing regime to include technologies to prevent ‘run off road’ accidents and collisions at junctions.

Adult Occupant
96%
Child Occupant
85%
Pedestrian
85%
Safety Assist
82%
Specification
Tested Model VW Arteon 2,0 TDI 110kW, LHD
Body Type 5 door hatchback
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1625kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all Arteons
Class Executive

Comes with an innovative driver protection system which will pull the vehicle over to the side of the road in the event of a prolonged period of driver inattentiveness, for instance in the case of illness.

Adult Occupant
96%
Child Occupant
87%
Pedestrian
79%
Safety Assist
71%
Specification
Tested Model Volkswagen T-Roc 1.0 TSI Comfortline, LHD
Body Type 5 door SUV
Year Of Publication 2017
Kerb Weight 1250kg
Vin From Which Rating Applies all T-Rocs
Class Small Off-Road

Automated Cruise Control and AEB come with the T-Roc as standard; which is great news considering the ever-growing popularity of the small SUV segment.

  • Judging Criteria
  • Safety as Standard
  • Making Safety a Deal Breaker

In previous years cars needed a five-star Euro NCAP rating and life-saving Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) on at least one model to stand a chance of being crowned the safest car of the year. This year the judges have put more emphasis on the availability and efficiency of a wider array of other Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).

Systems that can help prevent collisions with pedestrians, cyclist and animals plus those that stop vehicles straying across lanes, and can maintain a safe speed or distance from other vehicles, all without driver input, are now central to the judges’ decisions.

The judges also look at value for money and give merit to emerging systems not yet in the Euro NCAP rating programme - such as ‘turn-across path’ detection - that have the potential to offer greater protection to all, including motorcyclists.

Director of Research at Thatcham Research, Matthew Avery, explains: “There’s a feeling among the public that all new cars are safe now. This award shows that whilst most cars are safe there are differences, especially in terms of technology. The ADAS systems we are judging the cars on are going to make the difference between having a crash and not.”

This years What Car? Safety Award judges are:

Michiel van Ratingen: Secretary General, Euro NCAP
Peter Thomas: Professor of Road and Vehicle Safety at Loughborough University,
Claire Evans: Consumer Editor, What Car?
Matthew Avery: Director of Research, Thatcham Research

Many manufacturers market these ADAS technologies as optional extras but with their potential to save so many lives they are far too important not to be fitted as standard.

Research shows that while 80 per cent of drivers welcome AEB only 20 per cent are willing to pay more for it and Thatcham Research estimate only three per cent of buyers actively seek out ADAS technology, so manufacturers should take responsibility and start fitting it as standard.

“The underlying radar and camera systems are present on most new cars, so we want manufacturers to fit this safety kit as standard because we know the consumer isn't buying it as an option,” says Avery.

Only six of this year’s ten best-selling cars feature AEB as standard and even the top-selling Ford Fiesta only features it as an option. Lane keep assist is even more poorly served, standard on just two top-ten models.

Yet this year’s longlist proves that manufacturers can, and do, include such life-saving technology as standard, even on affordable cars - demonstrating that standard-fit safety tech doesn’t have to come at a premium.

It’s down to other brands to follow suit and for customers to put pressure on them to include safety as standard.

While some vehicle manufacturers continue to make advanced driver assistance systems cost options consumers can help turn the tide by making safety a deal breaker when buying a new car. A little research and setting some ground rules will ensure you get the safest car you can, whatever your budget.

Here are three simple steps to getting the safest car:

Make sure it’s a five-star car
Head to Euro NCAP’s website and check the safety score of any car you’re considering. If it hasn’t earned a five-star rating, don’t buy it.

Demand AEB
Understand whether the car has AEB as standard or as an option. You can check this using our AEB fitment guide. If it’s not available, score that car off your list. If it’s only optional ask the dealer to fit it as part of the sale. If they won’t, take your business to one who will.

Don’t be fobbed off
Dealers might downplay the importance of safety systems to sell you an in-stock car that doesn’t have them. Don’t be tempted by the instant option, insist on a car that has the kit you want.