EU demands speed limiters on all new cars: know the rules and how they work

Car industry body calls for UK government to adopt the new measures, but we’ll probably get them anyway…

speed limiters

New cars launched in the European Union must now have Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) tech fitted by law, and all the signs point to similar rules being applied in the UK.

Many cars in Europe and the UK already have speed limit assistance that relies on info from GPS mapping and road sign recognition, but systems currently have to be switched on by the driver. Under the new EU regulations ISA will be active by default, although drivers will, for now, be able to turn the systems off at the start of each journey.

Under the new EU General Safety Rule, manufacturers are able to choose how their systems notify drivers of a speed limit breach. Options include acoustic and vibrating warnings, haptic feedback via the accelerator pedal, and actively slowing the car down - one or all of these must be incorporated.

While speed merchants and careless drivers will not be automatically reined back by their cars just yet, the ISA systems could be a step towards implementation of fully automated speed controls. We recently reported on a speed limit ‘geofencing’ project being explored by Ford in Cologne, which prevents drivers from speeding in prescribed geographical areas, and speed control is also a key component of expected advances in autonomous or self-driving technology.

For now, the ISA technology will only apply to all-new models launched from July 6 2022. New cars already launched and in the showrooms will have until July 2024 to be ISA equipped. While the EU rules have been applied after Brexit so won’t be adopted automatically in the UK, there’s every chance we’ll get the same systems here regardless of any government action. Pressure from Euro NCAP testing and the desire of manufacturers to have commonality of parts will be the primary drivers.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “We forward to continuing discussions with the UK government on how these measures will be rolled out in this country. Some manufacturers have already been offering these technologies to consumers ahead of any regulations, including Intelligent Speed Assistance, and will continue to do so across the UK. With the heavily integrated nature of the UK and European automotive sectors, regulatory divergence is not advantageous for either party.”

Why has the EU brought speed limiters in?

In a word, safety. Chief proponent of ISA is the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) which says the move will reduce collisions by 30 per cent and road deaths by 20 per cent. The EU has a target of zero road deaths by 2050. 

ISA, along with other measures coming in at the same time such as standard autonomous emergency braking (AEB), could prevent 140,000 serious road traffic injuries by 2038, it is said. 

Crash test organisation EuroNCAP agrees: “Greater adherence to speed limits will avert accidents and mitigate the effects of those that occur”.

How do ISA speed limiters work? 

Many new cars are already fitted out with the technology they need to restrict their speed autonomously. With a combination of speed-sign recognition cameras, sat-nav and clever software, a car can at any time know where it is, how fast it is going and what the speed limit is. It can then restrict engine power so it can’t exceed that speed limit. It’s a form of always-on intelligent adaptive cruise control.

speed limiters

Can you turn ISA speed limiters off? 

At this stage in its development yes, the system can be turned off – but you have to deactivate it at the start of every journey. Otherwise it will kick in automatically each time you turn the car on and drive off.

If you push hard enough on the accelerator you can override a system that limits your speed in real time as well - to complete an overtaking manoeuvre for example. The systems are likely to be accompanied by a range of haptic, visual and audio warning signals to tell you that you’ve exceeded the speed limit. The exact features of the systems will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. 

The technology is not foolproof and cars that rely solely on sign-recognition cameras could get confused when there is no sign, for instance on slip roads between motorways. You wouldn’t want to be restricted to 30mph when joining the M1. 

Some signs get damaged, are missing, are conditional on traffic or weather conditions, and others may be unreadable, for instance those at temporary road works. That’s why the ISA systems can be disabled.

Don’t some cars have a similar system already? 

All new cars today come with a warning buzzer that the driver can set for any given speed. And some cars – all Volvos for example – come with a facility to restrict top speed (Volvo calls it a Care Key) for use with inexperienced drivers and valet parkers. There are also camera based systems that can physically restrict your speed according to information on road signs. 

The technology has been in development for some time. Ford tried a version of ISA in EU markets in 2015 and similar systems have been trialled by Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and Mercedes

Will ISA mean an end to speeding tickets? 

It will not. As already mentioned, you will still be able to override the system. The driver will still be responsible for adhering to limits – even if ISA malfunctions. “The driver is always responsible for adhering to the relevant traffic rules,” says the European Commission.

What other mandatory safety aids are coming?

As well as ISA and autonomous emergency braking, the new EU regulations for newly-launched cars require a ‘black box’ data logger, emergency stop signals, driver fatigue detection system, lane keep assist and built-in breathalyser. 

Will speed limiters be a useful safety boost or another annoyance for motorists? Have your say in the comments...

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