‘Speed assist’ now mandatory on new vehicles in Europe

Some versions of the tech just warn, others actually slow you down, but drivers can override all of them if necessary

  • All new passenger vehicles in Europe must be equipped with Intelligent Speed Assist (ISA) as of July 7, 2024
  • Canada and the U.S. are also looking into the possibility of requiring the systems
  • Automakers will now have to keep vehicle connectivity updated for 14 years, and offer free map updates for seven years

The European Union (E.U.) has implemented a new requirement for all new vehicles sold in that market to be equipped with Intelligent Speed Assist (ISA), which will warn drivers if they’re exceeding the speed limit and possibly even slow them down. If that happens, though, the driver will always be able to override the limiter by accelerating.

The system was a requirement on all newly-designed models starting in July 2022, but now it’s mandatory on all new vehicles registered in the E.U. as of July 7, 2024. The regulation allowed automakers to employ in their cars any of four options, all of which meet the requirements. Two of them are only warning systems, known as “informative” or “advisory” ISA — they make a warning sound, or a vibration through the steering wheel.

The other two possibilities are more active. “Supportive” or “warning” ISA uses haptic feedback through the accelerator pedal — if you’re above the limit, the pedal presses back against your foot. “Intervening” or “mandatory” ISA slows the vehicle down. Both of these systems can be overridden by pressing harder on the throttle. None of the ISA systems keep the vehicle at or under the speed limit without the driver being able to speed up.

The regulatory commission said the ISA system is “required to work with the driver and not to restrict his/her possibility to act in any moment during driving. The driver is always in control and can easily override the ISA system.”

The systems use information such as GPS and road-sign recognition to determine the speed limit. It’s up to the auto manufacturers to decide which of the four systems they prefer to use. Drivers will be able to deactivate the system, but it will automatically come back on the next time the vehicle is started.

The European Road Safety Observatory said that excess speed contributes to around 30% of fatal crashes, and that 40% to 60% of drivers typically exceed the limit. Studies show that “reducing average speeds by just 1 km/h can result in a 5% reduction in fatal crashes.” In 2022, the average across the European Union (not including the U.K.) was 46 deaths per 1 million inhabitants. Sweden and Demark were the lowest, at 22 and 26 respectively, while Romania was the highest at 86 deaths — and that was down from almost 120 deaths in 2010.

Since it’s no longer part of the E.U. following Brexit, the United Kingdom won’t be bound by the regulations — except for Northern Ireland, which remains aligned to the E.U. and will require ISA systems.

In a statement, Rod Dennis, road safety spokesperson for British automotive services company RAC said that, “While it’s not currently mandated that cars sold in the U.K. have to be fitted with (ISA) systems, we’d be surprised if manufacturers deliberately exclude the feature from those they sell in the U.K. as it would add unnecessary cost to production.” That’s similar to how tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) are not a vehicle requirement in Canada, but they are in the U.S. and so many automakers include them anyway.

A 60-km/h speed limit sign on a road in Ottawa during rush hour
A 60-km/h speed limit sign on a road in Ottawa during rush hourPhoto by Iryna Tolmachova /Getty

But the systems aren’t going to be without their challenges. If the ISA can’t figure out what the speed limit is, it has to send the driver a message to that effect. Although the systems have been available in vehicles for some time, they add cost, especially with the active methods of pedal feedback or slowing the vehicle.

The mandate also requires that vehicles retain up-to-date connectivity for a total of 14 years after their manufacture; and if the system uses electronic map data, the automaker has to update the map at least once a year for seven years at no charge. And no system is perfect: Several of us at Driving.ca have experienced in-vehicle navigation where the speed limit in the display doesn’t match the sign on the side of the road.

In the U.S., the National Safety Council leads a group called the Road to Zero Coalition. In December of 2023, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a member of the coalition, said the group is urging automakers and regulators to “promote (ISA) and speed limiters to help curb an epidemic of speeding that has contributed to a spike in traffic deaths since 2020.” The non-profit safety organization recommended warning-based or advisory ISA systems “as a starting point” for passenger vehicles. For commercial operators and public fleets, it recommended “promoting ISA or speed limiters, which prevent the vehicle from exceeding a preset maximum speed.”

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