The U.K. Effect

April 1, 2017

Changes caused by Euro NCAP safety tests often carry over to the U.S.—here’s what you can expect.

A 1997 Rover 100, traveling at 40 mph, smashes head-on into a wall. 

This demonstration is followed by a 2017 Honda Jazz, a vehicle roughly the same size, traveling at the same speed, hitting the same wall.

Yet, the results couldn’t be more different.

Despite a fairly roughed-up front end, the crash test dummies in the Jazz appear to be safe and sound. The same cannot be said for the passengers of the Rover 100, which is left unrecognizable after the crash.

The 20-year difference between the models highlights the impact of Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme)—a vehicle safety rating system Thatcham Research joined in 2004—in the United Kingdom. This demonstration, housed on Thatcham’s YouTube page, highlights the impact safety tests have made in the U.K.

This, according to Matthew Avery, head of research for Thatcham, is notable for the U.S. collision repair market, as the changes required by Euro NCAP often cause delayed ripples in the U.S.

“Our standards tend to be two years ahead of the U.S. market,” he says.

The latest standard? Combining crash test ratings with crash avoidance ratings—which may be in the U.S.’s future. 

David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—one of two major U.S. safety-rating systems—closely collaborates with Euro NCAP, and says monitoring U.K. safety ratings can prepare shops for collision repair trends coming down the pipeline.

AEB Requirements

Thatcham reported that the rigorous Euro NCAP testing has prevented more than 182,000 deaths and injuries on U.K. roads, and a 63 percent reduction in car occupants killed and seriously injured, from 23,000 in 1997 to 8,500 in 2015.

Avery credits that success to “raising the hurdle,” meaning Euro NCAP requires vehicles to meet ever-increasing safety standards each year to earn five-star ratings. 

NCAP’s latest requirement? All vehicles manufactured post-2014 are required to feature automatic emergency braking (AEB).

However, AEB is not standard in the U.S.—yet, Zuby says. At the moment, the U.S. NCAP (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s system, which the U.K. model is based on) only “recommends” vehicles be equipped with AEB, exempting the feature from its rating system. IIHS recently required it for vehicles to be named “Top Safety Picks.”

“Last year, NHTSA put out a request for comments for rolling together crash test ratings with crash avoidance ratings,” Zuby says. “Those changes they’re proposing for U.S. NCAP would be instituted in 2019.”

Because safety ratings greatly affect American buying habits, says Andrew Miller, chief technical officer for Thatcham, U.S. collision repair professionals can expect features such as AEB to soon become standard. That means the technical challenges associated with those repairs will become more prominent and necessary to understand, particularly because AEB sensors require recalibration.

Also on the horizon: Thatcham required pedestrian protection software on vehicles by 2016, and cyclist protection by 2018. Both the U.S. and U.K. are focusing on rear AEB systems aimed at preventing small parking lot collisions, which would severely reduce low-impact fender benders.

Accessible Repair Information

A market dealing with fewer crashes, Avery says, will be offset by more complicated, expensive repairs that require deep knowledge of auto manufacturers’ repair specifications.

The only problem? That information isn’t always easily accessible, Zuby says. While some states requires information be available to independent shops, it’s not a widespread requirement like it is in the U.K. Zuby there’s a lack of pressure on OEMs and insurance companies from the collision repair industry to make the availability of that information standard.

Miller says the U.K. should serve as a model for the U.S., as the Euro NCAP successfully fought to require accessible repair information—such as recalibrating sensors for AEB systems—for all U.K. shops. He believes the push will need to come from an unified voice that represents the industry.

“You’ll really need to pressure manufacturers and insurers to demand this information is provided excessively and easily in a clear manner,” Miller says.

“As vehicles become more technical, schools are becoming more aware of that technology and how to fix it.”

—Matthew Avery, Head of Research, Thatcham Research

IT Technicians

Much like in the U.S., recruitment issues plague the collision repair industry in the U.K., Avery says. However, with a greater focus on technologically complicated repairs in the U.K., he says the region is experiencing an unexpected transition: replacing body technicians with “IT technicians.”

“As vehicles become more technical, schools are becoming more aware of that technology and how to fix it,” Avery says.

“Vehicle complexity around hybrid vehicles, recognizing the sensors, recognizing what has to be done to reinstate them,” Miller adds. “All of that will become standard knowledge for technicians.”

Avery recommends pushing for this type of training at area vocational programs. As signified by U.K. shops, he says shop operators can expect to reduce shop staff in coming years and focus on less repairs that offer a larger return and require a higher level of training from technicians. 

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