When the Euro NCAP consumer crash test programme was launched 20 years ago, its influence on car design and safety was less than clear.
It certainly caused disquiet among car makers, who were unused to public scrutiny on the sensitive subject of safety. For several years, no car maker dared use the Euro NCAP logo on its advertising for fear of legitimising the programme.
But since then, progress has been dramatic, as illustrated by this week’s graphic 40mph offset crash test into a deformable barrier of the hapless Rover 100 (pictured) – a test the humble hatchback was never designed to pass.
Over 20 years, Euro NCAP has tested around 630 individual models in a total of 1800 crash tests at a cost of £136 million. The effect on UK road deaths has been dramatic and the annual toll of fatalities has halved to 1600.
Euro NCAP is mature enough to recognise that the car industry’s investment and expertise have made this possible. At the same time, the industry would no doubt admit that without public testing, resources are unlikely to have been allocated.
Euro NACP is not standing still, of course. The test and its star rating will be continually improved and updated over the next 10 years.
The main challenge is to keep up with advances in electronic safety aids, known by a litany of new acronyms: AEB, ELK, AES and TAP.
Automatic emergency braking (AEB), emergency lane keeping (ELK), autonomous emergency steering (AES) and traffic-across path (TAP) are all aimed at preventing accidents in the first place or allowing the car to take control and steer away from an impending impact.
Aspects of this autonomous level of control are going to be controversial, but having an independent and scientific testing regime to check if the systems work as advertised strikes me as a very good idea.
It is also worth remembering that the Euro NCAP testing regime goes a lot further than regulatory requirements.
It makes me wonder if a similar regime for independent, real-world emissions testing might be a better way to clean up exhaust scrubbing technology than unwieldy international standards that seemingly are open to interpretation in their practical application.