New Car Assessment Programs (NCAP) are voluntary, safety performance assessment programs that evaluate new automobile designs for performance against various safety threats. While legislation sets a minimum compulsory standard, NCAP is concerned with achieving best possible practices.
When the first NCAP was introduced in the United States in 1979, testing was limited. Vehicles were simply driven straight into a wall to measure the impact on a crash test dummy, and while crude, these tests were successful: the number of vehicle fatalities per 100 million miles traveled has decreased by about 75 percent since the 1970s. Despite this progress, it became clear that passive safety features could only go so far, and in 1996, Euro NCAP was created to address gaps in that testing.
For example, in each of the crash scenarios that the U.S. NCAP tests for — front impact, side impact and rollovers — only the effects on the driver are measured.
In contrast, Euro NCAP has four categories, each of which receives its own test grade: adult occupant protection (driver and passenger), child occupant protection, vulnerable road user protection (pedestrian and cyclist) and safety assist.
How does Euro NCAP work?
Euro NCAP is funded by the European Union as well as several individual European governments, automotive industry organizations and insurance groups. Testing is not mandatory, with vehicle models either being independently chosen by Euro NCAP or sponsored by the manufacturers based on their relevance to market segments.
Once vehicles have been assessed, they receive a star rating based on their performance: Five stars is excellent, four is good, and three average, while two stars indicates that the vehicle has “nominal” crash protection features but lacks crash avoidance, one star indicates that safety features are marginal, and zero stars indicates that the vehicle lacks modern safety technology. Rating agencies don’t have the authority to mandate changes like regulators, but their assessments are made public with consumers relying on these findings as a key factor in their buying decisions. OEMs are incentivized to earn high marks and proudly tout 5-star ratings in sales and marketing materials.
Euro NCAP regularly enhances its assessment procedures and adds new requirements to its testing program. In the safety assist category, Euro NCAP began testing adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane keep assist features and autonomous emergency braking in 2014, and added driver state monitoring in 2020.
Flexibility is key
Euro NCAP’s evolving requirements create challenges for manufacturers chasing the coveted 5-star rating. OEMs need a scalable, flexible platform that will enable them to add new safety features as requirements change.
Since the emphasis now is increasingly on crash avoidance rather than just crash survival, OEMs are working closely with suppliers to develop advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).
As vehicle automation evolves towards hands-free driving and eventually reaches the level at which drivers are no longer required to pay strict attention to the road, Euro NCAP requirements will undoubtedly become even more stringent. Euro NCAP has already developed a specific rating for vehicles with L2 autonomous driving capabilities, and the rating will evolve to include hands-free driving (L2+) in 2024 and “mind off driving” (L3) in 2026.
Aptiv’s ADAS platform enables automakers to build software-defined vehicles that can achieve 5-star NCAP ratings. Aptiv’s Smart Vehicle Architecture™ technology simplifies the electrical and electronic architecture to reduce complexity, cut costs and enable the advanced features and high degree of automation that consumers expect.