EU Member States give a mixed response to road safety proposals

  • December 4, 2018

Industry and transport ministers from the 28 EU Member States have set out their official responses to three key pieces of road safety legislation.  ETSC welcomed the position of the Council of the EU on new vehicle safety measures but is worried that new rules on road infrastructure safety management and revised professional driver working hour regulations will be weakened unless the European Parliament argues successfully for a stronger position in upcoming negotiations.

ETSC warmly welcomed the endorsement by EU ministers of industry of a new package of mandatory minimum vehicle safety standards including the mandatory fitting of Automated Emergency Braking (AEB) and Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA).

Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of ETSC said:

“EU Member States have given strong backing to a game-changing package of new minimum vehicle safety standards.  If this legislation is passed, together with the European Parliament, in the form it was proposed, it will prevent 25,000 people from dying over 16 years – a massive step forward for road safety. We strongly urge members of the European Parliament to guarantee this package is passed without being watered down.” 

Mandatory minimum vehicle safety regulations in Europe have not been upgraded since 2009, which accounts for significant differences in safety levels offered by new cars sold today.  Euro NCAP announced this month that the ageing, but still on sale, Fiat Panda had been awarded zero stars for safety under its current rating scheme despite the fact that it meets the regulatory minimum standards.  ETSC says this highlights the urgency of agreeing the new standards, in order that the latest safety innovations are brought to the rest of the market as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Roza Thun, the MEP responsible for agreeing the European Parliament’s position on the vehicle safety regulation has published her draft report, which is now subject to amendments and a vote in the Internal Market (IMCO) committee on 20 February.  Mrs Thun broadly supports all the measures proposed by the European Commission, but has added several improvements.  Mrs Thun also hosted a workshop in the European Parliament last month on the regulations. A number of issues were discussed including the reliability of ISA systems.  A representative of Mobileye, a major producer of ISA, said that the systems are 95% accurate in most EU countries.

The news on infrastructure safety rules was not positive.

In a text approved at the Transport Council meeting in Brussels, EU Member States introduced weaker language on three key elements of the European Commission’s proposal from May 2018, which could substantially weaken the potential of the new rules to reduce deaths and serious injuries on European roads.

The legislation is an update to existing EU safety requirements that currently only apply to major European motorways known as the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) of roads.  The existing requirements ensure governments carry out regular road safety audits, identify high-risk sites and prioritise safety when building new roads.  18 EU Member States already apply the rules to other roads on a voluntary basis.

The European Commission had proposed to extend the rules to all primary roads in the EU.  ETSC and other organisations have been calling for main urban and main rural roads to be covered, as many more people die in collisions on these types of roads than on motorways.

But transport ministers have declared that each individual Member State should only be obliged to apply the rules to the TEN-T network and roads that were funded by the EU.  The choice of other roads to be included would be left to Member States, leaving the possibility that some would propose the bare minimum, or only roads that already meet high safety standards.

The European Commission had also proposed to develop general performance standards for road signs and road markings across Europe.  ETSC urged for these to take the form of legally-binding minimum performance standards.  But transport ministers effectively dismissed this proposal by calling for the Commission to produce a report on the issue instead.  A high standard and consistency of road signs and road markings across Europe could be an important issue for higher levels of automation, when cars increasingly take away control from the driver under certain circumstances. Proposals for network-wide risk assessment were also weakened in the adopted text.

Ellen Townsend, Policy Director of ETSC said:

“If transport ministers continue with this position, they will be doing precious little to change the status quo: 25,000 deaths a year on EU roads, with virtually no improvement over the last three years.  We strongly urge the European Parliament to put forward a text that substantially improves road safety in Europe and hope that this will be reflected in the final deal agreed on this legislation early next year.”

At the same meeting, Transport ministers also agreed a position on controversial new rules on lorry driver working hours and rest times.

ETSC, together with trade unions and other groups, have been calling for a rethink of the new approach – which could see drivers having to work for even longer periods before they get a proper rest period.  The proposed changes could lead to higher levels of fatigue and a consequently lower level of safety in an industry notorious for long and uncomfortable working conditions.  Road transport unions were positive that ministers agreed on a ban on drivers taking multi-day rest periods in their vehicles, but still had serious concerns.  In particular, the European Transport Workers Federation says that lorry drivers should not be forced to spend three weeks with their vehicles away from home – up from a maximum of two weeks today.