All new cars could be fitted with special devices from 2022 to automatically make them keep to the speed limit after new EU rules were provisionally agreed.
Intelligent speed assistance (ISA) is one of a raft of safety measures set to become mandatory in European vehicles after the plans were given approval by the European Commission.
It is claimed the measures could help save more than 25,000 lives and avoid at least 140,000 serious injuries by 2038.
Road safety charity Brake described it as a “landmark day for road safety”, but the AA said the “best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot”.
The approved mandatory safety features for cars, vans, trucks and buses also include a warning of driver drowsiness and distraction, such as when using a smartphone while driving, and a data recorder in case of an accident.
Devices for lane-keeping assistance, advanced emergency braking and crash-test improved safety belts are suggested for cars and vans, while the legislation also addresses drink-driving, making it easier to retrofit an alcohol interlock device – used in a number of EU member states to tackle repeat drink-driving.
EU Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said the “vast majority” of fatal road accidents were caused by human error.
“We can and must act to change this,” she said.
“With the new advanced safety features that will become mandatory, we can have the same kind of impact as when safety belts were first introduced.
“Many of the new features already exist, in particular in high–end vehicles. Now we raise the safety level across the board, and pave the way for connected and automated mobility of the future.”
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, added: “These measures will provide the biggest leap forward for road safety this century, perhaps even since the introduction of the seatbelt.
“These lifesaving measures come at a vital time, with road safety in a concerning period of stagnation with more than 70 people still being killed or seriously injured on British roads every day.”
Brake urged the Government to commit to adopting the regulations in the UK, no matter what happens with Brexit.
The UK’s Vehicle Certification Agency has previously said the UK would align with EU rules on vehicle standards after Brexit, saying it aimed to “pursue mutual recognition of UK and EU type-approval certification”.
The political agreement on the new safety measures has yet to be formally approved by the European Parliament and Council.
This process could take several more months due to European Parliamentary elections in May, according to the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).
Antonio Avenoso, the ETSC executive director, said: “There have only been a handful of moments in the last 50 years which could be described as big leaps forward for road safety in Europe.
“If last night’s agreement is given the formal green light, it will represent another of those moments, preventing 25,000 deaths within 15 years of coming into force.”
AA president Edmund King said: “There is no doubt that new in-car technology can save lives and there is a good case for autonomous emergency braking to be fitted in all cars.
“When it comes to intelligent speed adaptation, the case is not so clear.
“The best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot and the driver should use it to do the right speed in the right situation.
“The right speed is often below the speed limit, for example outside a school with children about, but with ISA there may be a temptation to go at the top speed allowed which may not be appropriate.
“Sometimes a little speed also helps to keep safe on the road, for example over-taking a tractor on a country road or joining a motorway.
“Dodgem cars are all fitted with speed limiters but they still seem to crash.”