Priorities for EU Motor Vehicle Safety Design

  • June 1, 2001

Road crashes continue to be the main source of accidental death and injury in the European Union (EU) and throughout the world. Each year in EU countries over 42,000 road users are killed and, when under-reporting is taken into consideration, around 3.5 million are injured. This accounts for an annual cost of over 160 billion Euro and untold pain and suffering. Improvements throughout the traffic system using all the known strategies from crash prevention through to injury reduction and post impact care are needed to respond to the growing lack of public acceptance of road crash injuries. This review is intended to indicate the enormous potential which still exists to reduce the frequency and severity of road casualties by improvements to motor vehicles.

Vehicle engineering improvements for safety can either be achieved by modifying the vehicle to help the driver avoid accidents, or by modifying the vehicle to provide protection against injury in the event of a crash. National road safety plans generally indicate that vehicle safety measures are now deemed to be an essential part of any strategy aimed at reducing human suffering on the roads. The ultimate road safety goal must be to prevent crashes leading to serious, disabling or fatal injury from happening and new technologies can help the vehicle to play its part in preventing such crashes. However, it is clear that for the short to medium term, preventing or reducing the severity of injuries in crashes is the major role for car safety improvements.

New technologies are opening new opportunities as more intelligent systems are being developed for road vehicles. Communications, route and traffic information, systems for autonomous control of the vehicle and other “intelligent” systems are already becoming a feature in the marketplace. Many of these systems are claimed to have casualty reduction potential by increasing the levels of control the traffic system has over an individual vehicle therefore reducing the risk of an accident. These systems can appear desirable to the consumer and therefore to the manufacturer as they can be incorporated as a marketing item.

There are still many opportunities for further casualty reductions using passive safety measures for example in terms of pedestrian safety, side impact protection, frontal protection and improved compatibility. These are expected to remain major policy items for achieving road safety targets. Reducing the aggressiveness of roadside obstacles which may be impacted by vehicles is also important. There is a need for consideration to be given to designing both vehicles and roadside obstacles to interact better in crashes.

Accident research continues to show that many situations are not catered for by current measures. Crash tests only deal with a limited number of crash scenarios and protection is focussed on the average-sized male occupant. Other accident configurations and occupants of different sizes also need consideration. In future, for demographic reasons, the average age of the driving population will increase and become more vulnerable to injury. At the same time advances in vehicle crash protection will allow more road users than at present to survive impacts and the need to prevent injuries with long term effects will become more important. The socio-economic costs of many disabling injuries, such as ‘whiplash’, are poorly represented by their severity, usually measured in terms of threat to life.

As part of ETSC’s current programme, which receives matched funding from the European Commission’s Energy and Transport Directorate, this review of future priority needs for motor vehicle safety design aims to provide a source of impartial advice to the EU institutions and Member States in identifying safety priorities for the EU Whole Vehicle Type Approval process, European consumer information and Community research programmes.

The review has been carried out by ETSC’s Road Vehicle Safety Working Party which brings together a multi-disciplinary group of safety experts from across the European Union.

Section 2 of this report outlines the key crash injury problems involving motor vehicles on EU roads. Section 3 considers how motor vehicle design can reduce crash injuries for all types  of motor vehicles from two-wheeled motor vehicles to heavy goods vehicles. Designs are considered which affect not only the occupants of motor vehicles but also the other road users that motor vehicles hit. All the vehicle-related, road safety strategies are considered – crash prevention, crash protection and post impact care. This section also reviews developments of required information and design tools: crash information recorders, in-depth crash data, biomechanics and dummy development. Section 4 summarises ETSC immediate priorities for EU legislation, consumer information and research and development.